The government increased victim protection efforts. The government identified 48 official victims (39 official victims in 2019). Of these, 46 were victims of forced labor, including seven victims of forced begging, and two were victims of sex trafficking (all were victims of forced labor in 2019); 17 were females and 31 were males (12 females and 27 males in 2019); and seven were children (none in 2019). First responders carried out the preliminary identification of possible victims and then contacted police who formally recognized the individuals as potential victims. Police officers proactively screened foreign nationals and individuals in commercial sex for indicators of trafficking. In previous years, observers reported that the low number of identified victims reflected inadequate victim identification procedures. The government established TFITV to assess and officially recognize potential victims and coordinate victim care and placement, and it drafted new SOPs for identifying and referring victims to services in 2019, including eliminating the requirement for victims to cooperate with law enforcement in order to receive services. TFITV comprises a doctor, a psychologist from the Women’s Rights Center, police, a social worker from the Center for Social Work, and a representative from the Office for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons (TIP office). In October 2020, the government adopted the SOPs and added a psychologist from an NGO to TFITV after civil society organizations voiced their interest in participating in the victim identification process; TFITV met 19 times and conducted nine field missions. The government provided training on victim identification and assistance to police, labor inspectors, health workers, social workers, and members of TFITV. However, observers reported an NGO worker identified a potential foreign victim in March 2020, but police refused to initiate the referral process without an approval from a health and sanitation inspector and threatened the victim and NGO worker with charges for not complying with pandemic mitigation measures. A health and sanitation inspector subsequently required the potential foreign victim and NGO worker to quarantine for 28 days, during which the potential foreign victim faced domestic violence. An NGO-run shelter housed the potential foreign victim in April 2020, and after persistent advocacy, DSCOTPS started an investigation and transferred the victim to the shelter in June 2020.
In 2019, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) transferred funding responsibilities for victim protection to the Ministry of Finance and Social Welfare (MFSW), which subsequently defunded the only NGO-run shelter due to its inability to obtain necessary licenses to provide victim assistance. MFSW opened a call for proposals to establish a new shelter and selected an NGO with the necessary licenses. The MFSW allocated €67,530 ($82,860) to the shelter, including €40,000 ($49,080) for operational costs and €250 ($310) per month for each victim accommodated at the shelter, an increase compared with €40,000 ($49,080) in 2019. The shelter provided specialized services for both potential and officially recognized trafficking victims, including immediate needs, health care, psycho-social support, legal assistance, and reintegration assistance; the shelter housed 14 victims in 2020 (two in 2019). The shelter purchased personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 tests and adopted social distancing measures, including separate rooms for victims awaiting COVID-19 test results. DSCOTPS also donated disinfectants and PPE to NGOs and the shelter. The shelter could accommodate six victims up to a year, including adult males, adult females, and children, in separate living quarters. Adult victims could leave the shelter after a security and psychosocial evaluation by shelter staff. MFSW operated local social and welfare centers and two regional institutions, which provided general services for victims of abuse, including trafficking victims. A self-administered evaluation of the shelter’s support services concluded beneficiaries and visitors of the shelter were satisfied with the quality of care, staff, and facility. However, other experts reported concerns with the shelter staff’s lack of experience in victim protection, including unnecessary operational costs and victim confidentiality concerns. For example, the shelter often published photos of victims on social media with censored faces but identifiable characteristics, such as clothes and location.
There were no reports the government penalized victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit. The law allowed foreign victims to acquire temporary residence permits from three months to one year with the ability to extend; no victims applied for temporary residence permits in 2019 or 2020. The government cooperated with authorities from Kosovo and Serbia to repatriate foreign victims. The law provided witness protection, free legal aid, and a psychologist to participate in prosecutions. However, observers continued to report that the government assigned lawyers with little or no experience to victims; one victim received free legal aid, and all victims assisted in investigations. Prosecutors continued to implement victim-centered approaches for victims who participated in court proceedings, particularly child victims. For example, a child victim testified in the presence of a social worker with audio/visual equipment, while in a separate room from their perpetrator. However, observers reported police failed to protect a potential victim from intimidation and threats to change her testimony from her at-large perpetrator in 2019. Judges did not issue restitution in criminal cases, and observers reported some prosecutors did not know they could make claims during criminal proceedings. No victim has received compensation in civil proceedings, and the law on compensation of victims intended to provide financial assistance to victims of violent crimes will not go into effect until Montenegro becomes a member of the EU.