The government maintained protection efforts. The government identified 50 victims in 2020 (53 in 2019) and an additional 11 victims (13 in 2019) were either self-identified or identified by the victim-care service provider, a government-funded NGO – bringing the total to 61 (66 in 2019). Of the victims identified, 34 were female, (12 girls), and 27 were male (three boys). The government identified at least 22 sex trafficking victims and 26 labor trafficking victims, including 10 forced begging victims, with the remaining experiencing multiple forms of trafficking. Of the victims identified, 60 were Slovak nationals and one was a Chinese foreign national. Children comprised nearly 26 percent of the total victims identified. The Expert Group formally adopted, published online, and distributed an updated National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for victim identification and referral, which included some improvements such as highlighting trauma-informed approaches to victim identification and care and explaining forced labor situations. However, many prior concerns remained unaddressed, including the continued lack of clear roles and tailored guidelines for all front-line officials and stakeholders who were most likely to encounter trafficking victims – including, health care specialists, employees of foster homes, and counselors of offices of labor, social affairs, and family – in order to improve victims’ access to and quality of assistance. Additionally, the updated NRM focused heavily on describing the potential trafficking situations of foreign nationals in Slovakia or Slovak nationals abroad but included little on trafficking situations Slovak nationals could experience within Slovakia. Law enforcement officials or the State Secretary of the MOI were the exclusive entities with authority to formally identify victims and approval by the State Secretary was required prior to enrollment in the victim-care program. The government trained 17 employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on victim identification and distributed written guidelines to those within Slovakia and its embassies abroad, which resulted in the identification of 10 potential trafficking victims by Slovakian embassy staff abroad in 2020. Further, in 2020, the government partnered with a government-funded NGO to train 15 social workers and shelter employees on proactive victim identification and referral. However, despite training, the identification of foreign national and Slovak victims within the country remained a challenge. The national police reported the majority (40 of 61) of Slovak victims were exploited in other countries, resulting in few victims identified within Slovakia. Further, despite their significant presence, only one victim was a foreign national. While there were no reports the government penalized victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit, trafficking victims may have remained unidentified in asylum-seeker and irregular migrant detention facilities. GRETA continued to express concerns related to the ability and willingness of labor inspectors and the Border and Alien Police to thoroughly screen illegally employed foreign nationals or asylum-seekers for trafficking indicators and refer them to assistance before deporting them. Asylum-seekers could be kept in detention for up to six months per Slovak law; the Center for Legal Aid visited two detention centers during the reporting period, but the staff were not trained to identify human trafficking victims and did not report identifying any victims in 2020. A government-funded NGO administering the victim-care program conducted seven visits to asylum-seeker facilities and detention facilities for irregular migrants, but it did not identify any victims in 2020 or in any prior year. In its June 2020 Report, GRETA urged the government to increase the quality of screening for trafficking victims by ensuring officials were adequately trained in victim identification at asylum-seeker and irregular migrant detention facilities. The victim-care service provider reported providing pre-return assistance to 13 Slovak nationals and voluntary returns to four. The foreign victim identified in 2020 elected to enroll in the national victim-care program and had been issued a work permit.
Of the 61 total victims identified, only 12 decided to enter the government-funded victim-care program in 2020 (17 of 66 in 2019 and 16 of 56 in 2018). The program continued to assist an additional nine victims enrolled from previous years. Of persistent concern, government officials and the victim-care service provider continued to note that after concluding the victim-care program, survivors remained in poor physical and mental states and frequently ended up on the streets. In its June 2020 Report, GRETA noted concern regarding the traditionally low participation in the victim-care program and urged the government to investigate further. In 2020, the government provided €212,450 ($260,680) to one NGO that operated the national victim assistance program, voluntary return, and the national trafficking hotline, a slight decrease from the €215,000 ($263,800) allocated in 2019. The government-funded, NGO-run victim assistance program provided Slovak and foreign victims with shelter, financial support, repatriation to Slovakia, health care, psychosocial support, legal assistance, interpretation services, and job training. In response to the pandemic, the victim-care service provider prepared a crisis plan that focused on the introduction of preventive and sanitation measures to ensure the safety and health of all victims enrolled in the victim-care program. The government reported that foreign victims, including both EU nationals and third country nationals, had access to the same scope and quality of victim care and support. All potential victims were eligible for at least 30 days of crisis care; victims enrolled in the assistance program were eligible for up to 180 days of care without having to participate in an investigation. However, victims who chose to cooperate with law enforcement were eligible to access victim care for the duration of the investigation and trial, which was often much longer than 180 days; in 2020, 54 (22 men, 32 women) out of 61 victims identified cooperated with police and prosecutors. Beginning in January 2021, foreign victims, including trafficking victims, who had been granted temporary residency, were included under the general government-funded healthcare insurance scheme, which improved the provision of healthcare services to potential foreign trafficking victims who chose not to enroll in the victim-care program. The government did not have dedicated shelters for trafficking victims, but rather accommodated victims in domestic violence shelters, with men and women housed separately, or in homeless shelters. There were limited accommodations for victims with families. Children were not usually assisted through the national victim-care program, rather authorities placed unaccompanied child trafficking victims in the care of child protective services in a government-run children’s home or an NGO-run crisis home for children. However, if a child trafficking victim required additional services, it was possible to utilize trafficking-specific services through the national victim-care program, as one such child did in 2020. The government-run children’s home was officially designated as responsible for child trafficking victims, among other child victims, and could accommodate up to eight victims. Referral of child victims to care was not systematic and officials noted that coordination between these two victim-care regimes required improved streamlining.
It was unnecessary for the government to grant work permits as foreign victims received subsidiary protection and could work legally, though NGOs noted obstacles, including length of stay, sometimes precluded this. The law authorized permanent residency for foreign victims who would face hardship or retribution if returned to their country of origin; authorities issued no such residence permits during the reporting period. The government granted asylum to one trafficking victim in 2020. The pre-trial and trial process was lengthy and not always adapted, nor prosecutors or judges sufficiently trained, to avoid re-traumatization of victims. The 2017 crime victim’s protection act provided psychological assistance to victims in pre-trial proceedings, banned direct cross-examination of victims, and allowed recorded testimony as official trial evidence, among other protections. NGOs reported the government, including police and judges, implemented and applied the new law inconsistently, and police continued to lack proper interviewing rooms. Experts expressed concern that the law’s limit of one victim interview may hinder opportunities to build rapport with traumatized victims, who are unlikely to provide reliable testimony in a single interview session. Though not systematic, judges were generally willing to accommodate requests to provide a separate waiting area for victims and to remove the suspected trafficker from the courtroom during victim testimony. Further, a new guideline, issued in 2020, required investigators to invite the government-funded NGO administering the victim-care program to victim interviews, to ensure victims knew their rights regarding the victim-care program, free legal advice, and restitution. Witness protection programs existed, but the government has never utilized these programs for any trafficking victim; in its June 2020 report, GRETA continued to urge the government to utilize its witness protection programs for trafficking victims. Though the process was complicated, the 2017 crime victim’s protection act enabled the government to grant between €5,800 ($7,120) and €29,000 ($35,580) in compensation to victims from state funding for the year 2020; during the reporting period, the victim-care service provider requested and received €16,890 ($20,720) in compensation for one trafficking victim. Prosecutors could file for restitution from traffickers in criminal cases; however, unlike 2019, courts did not report awarding restitution to any victims in 2020. Civil society continued to allege that prosecutors were frequently reluctant to request restitution in trials to avoid prolonging already lengthy proceedings. Additionally, victims could seek damages through civil suits, but unlike 2019, no victims were awarded damages in 2020. NGOs continued to argue excessive legal costs and length of proceedings discouraged many victims from filing civil suits. Under the 2018 act, victims who opted to seek compensation from their traffickers through a civil suit could not also request restitution through criminal proceedings. Experts continued to assert that judges did not award criminal restitution or civil damages in the majority of cases. The law provided a narrow interpretation of the non-punishment of victims, giving prosecutors discretion to terminate criminal prosecution only for offenses committed by negligence and offenses carrying a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment; it did not cover administrative or immigration-related offenses and GRETA noted that some prosecutors were unaware of the non-punishment clause.