The government maintained insufficient protection efforts. Authorities used the existing national victim identification and referral mechanism to identify victims and refer them to care. While ANITP drafted a new referral mechanism in 2018 with the support of NGOs, the government did not implement it for the third straight year. In 2020, the government changed its reporting methodology under the National Mechanism for Identification and Referral of Victims to allow any entity, including diplomatic missions, NGOs, and other organizations, to identify victims. Authorities identified 596 victims (429 sex trafficking, 131 labor trafficking, and 36 victims of attempted or uncategorized trafficking), compared with 698 in 2019 and 497 in 2018. Of the 596 victims, 255 were children. Authorities identified one foreign victim (zero in 2019 and 2018), but observers estimated there were numerous cases, particularly among asylum-seekers. Experts reported authorities had not identified any victims among asylum-seekers in the past five years. An intergovernmental organization attributed the problem to a lack of experienced, qualified interpreters working with asylum-seekers. According to NGOs, authorities’ limited contact with victims, movement restrictions during lockdown, and law enforcement’s focus on enforcing the restriction negatively affected identification efforts. Additionally, the lack of specialized training on the psychological trauma of trafficking on victims hindered authorities’ ability to correctly identify potential victimization. Observers reported authorities did not proactively identify victims among individuals in commercial sex, and continued to fine persons in commercial sex, including children, without screening for trafficking indicators. However, observers reported authorities typically dropped charges or fines once investigators and prosecutors realized a suspect was a trafficking victim. Moreover, authorities did not identify victims in key locations of concern, such as government placement centers, and identification typically occurred only after a criminal investigation started. NGOs claimed the government did not include in its statistics victims identified by foreign governments and other stakeholders; consequently the actual number of victims likely was higher than the reported number.
After identified victims consented to the referral process, they received assistance. Assistance was not conditional upon a victim’s cooperation with law enforcement, but upon a person’s status as an identified trafficking victim. As in previous years, fewer than half of identified victims received assistance. In 2020, approximately 35 percent (210) of identified victims received assistance from public institutions, public-private partnerships, and NGOs, a decline from 49 percent in 2019 and 48 percent in 2018. The government provided emotional support, psychological counseling, legal assistance, and career counseling to domestic and foreign victims. The law permitted foreign victims “tolerated status” for up to six months and granted asylum-seekers the right to work after three months. Authorities referred identified adult victims to ANITP and child victims to Child Protection Services (CPS). Victims received protection and assistance services in government-run facilities and in NGO-run trafficking shelters. The government maintained a limited number of government-run shelters designated for vulnerable adults, including trafficking victims. Authorities placed child victims in general child facilities or in facilities for children with disabilities run by CPS. Despite children representing 43 percent of identified victims, CPS managed only two centers focused specifically on child trafficking victims. CPS in each county received funding from local governments to maintain teams of social assistants, psychologists, lawyers, and pediatricians, who were responsible for providing services to victims. However, these teams utilized the same methodology regardless of the type of abuse identified. NGOs reported local CPS did not have adequate expertise in trafficking and resources to provide quality care. ANPDCA also reported local CPS lacked the necessary knowledge that would allow them to justify funding requests for specialized services. In an effort to provide consistent quality care to child trafficking victims, in 2020 the Ministry of Labor issued a regulation requiring minimum standards of assistance for child victims. Under the new regulation, licensed service providers offering shelter and assistance to identified child victims must adhere to a set of specific requirements, including providing safe environments, specialized psychological counseling, and visitations with families. Notwithstanding, perennial problems of abuse and neglect of children housed in institutions, coupled with the lack of proactive identification and assistance in government facilities, left children in placement centers vulnerable to trafficking. The 2020 parliamentary report stated CPS employees who oversaw children housed in institutions did not proactively try to prevent trafficking, sometimes encouraged girls to become involved in sex trafficking, or knowingly tolerated the exploitation of child trafficking victims. NGOs noted in certain counties CPS officials acted as accomplices to traffickers.
Overall services for victims remained inadequate and left victims at risk of re-trafficking. Government funding for NGO assistance and protection services remained limited. While the government relied on NGOs to accommodate and assist victims, it did not allocate grants directly to NGOs due to legislation precluding direct funding. A 2018 bill that would provide NGOs with funding for victim services remained pending in Parliament. Despite Romanian law entitling all victims to psychological and medical care, the government did not provide more than one mental health counseling session and did not finance medical care costs. NGOs paid all psychological services costs for victims due to the government’s refusal to reimburse psychologists who assisted victims. NGOs also covered victims’ emergency medical care costs because the government did not provide financial assistance and medical care required payment upfront. Furthermore, access to medical care required Romanian victims to return to their home districts to obtain identity documents. The process presented logistical and financial hurdles for many trafficking victims; NGOs also covered these costs. Additionally, while the government reported facilitating the repatriation of 33 victims abroad, it did not report funding repatriation expenses. NGOs and an international organization typically absorbed the costs. The government reported allocating approximately 26.5 million RON ($6.68 million) to local governments, but it did not report how much, if any, was for trafficking-related services. Observers noted insufficient funding of social protection services by local governments persisted.
In general, victims lacked adequate support during criminal cases. Reports of victim intimidation during and after court proceedings persisted. NGOs reported many courts did not impose sanctions on traffickers’ lawyers when they harassed and mocked the victims during proceedings. Judges relied heavily on the victim’s in-person testimony, preferably in front of their trafficker, further traumatizing victims. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that Romanian courts lacked national practices to protect child victims of sexual assault. The ECHR held that, because of the lack of a national practices to protect children, Romania did not meet its obligations to punish perpetrators of child sexual assault under criminal law. In an effort to address these systemic challenges, the government took some small steps forward during the reporting period. Prosecutorial offices in Constanta, Vrancea, and Valcea inaugurated three child-friendly hearing rooms with the help of two NGOs that contributed funding. ANITP’s efforts to inform victims of their legal rights and provide psychological support led to increased participation of victims in criminal proceedings. In 2020, 433 victims participating in criminal proceedings accessed services available to victims assisting law enforcement (255 in 2019); these services included concealing victims’ identities, providing protection at victims’ residences, and transporting victims to and from legal proceedings. The government allocated 19,600 RON ($4,940) for the legal assistance of victims provided by public legal counsel. However, the lawyers assigned often lacked experience working with trafficking victims, and courts did not always grant free legal aid to victims, particularly if they were not sex trafficking victims. Also, access to free legal aid was contingent on proof of indigence. Romanian law permitted foreign victims who cooperated with authorities to receive a renewable, six-month temporary residence permit. Additionally, in 2020, the government ceased publishing the names of all trial witnesses, including children, on its public website – a long-standing practice compromising victims’ privacy and safety. In doing so, though, the government removed all case information, creating concerns about transparency. NGOs raised concerns the removed case information, such as length of trials and court decisions, was crucial for tracking Romania’s anti-trafficking efforts and requested the government restore that information. As of the end of the reporting period, the government restored a few dozen cases, which did not include the names of victims, to the database. The law entitled victims to reparation from their traffickers; however, victims generally could not afford the fees necessary to initiate civil trials or, in cases in which judges ordered restitution, to pay court officers to collect the money owed from traffickers. If victims did not obtain restitution in court, the government could reimburse for expenses related to hospitalization, material damage caused by the traffickers, and revenues victims lost while being trafficked. In the event traffickers’ assets were not seized but a guilty verdict was reached, the government could pay material damages for documented expenses such as medical bills. Throughout 2020, courts ordered defendants to pay 33 victims. The National Agency for the Administration of Seized Assets (ANABI) managed and sold assets confiscated from convicted criminals, and the money obtained following the selling of the assets could be used to pay the victims and cover lawsuit-related expenses. Despite these provisions, ANABI did not compensate any victims in 2020.