The government maintained insufficient protection efforts. The government identified 34 victims in 2021 (compared with 50 in 2020 and 53 in 2019), and an additional eight victims (compared with 11 in 2020) were either self-identified or identified by the victim-care service provider—bringing the total to 42 victims, a decrease compared with 61 in 2020 and 66 in 2019. Of the victims identified, 23 were female (10 girls), and 19 were male (two boys). Of the victims identified by police, 15 were sex trafficking victims, two were victims of both sex and labor trafficking, and 17 were labor trafficking victims, including at least one forced begging victim, one forced criminality victim, and two domestic servitude victims. Of the victims identified, 32 were Slovak nationals, and two were Vietnamese nationals transiting Slovakia to Germany. Children comprised approximately 30 percent of the total victims identified. Officials attributed lower victim identification in 2021 to the pandemic and a shift to online platforms making victim identification more difficult, but they did not provide further details. Gaps in victim identification remained a concern: despite the large number of non-EU nationals present in Slovakia (approximately 111,500 in December 2021) and increased vulnerability to trafficking, no non-EU foreign nationals were identified as trafficking victims exploited in Slovakia, and 21 of 34 victims (62 percent) were identified abroad by other entities—a long- standing pattern in Slovakia. The government continued to utilize its national referral mechanism (NRM) for victim identification and referral. However, prior concerns remained unaddressed, including the continued lack of clear roles and tailored guidelines to improve victims’ access to and quality of assistance 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—though targeted training mitigated some concerns. Additionally, the NRM focused heavily on describing the potential trafficking situations of foreign nationals in Slovakia or Slovak nationals abroad, but it included little on trafficking situations Slovak nationals could experience within Slovakia. Law enforcement officials were the exclusive entities with authority to formally identify victims. However, experts have previously criticized the exclusive law enforcement authority to formally identify victims, asserting it created a potential conflict of priorities between law enforcement efforts and victim assistance.
In 2021, the government provided €208,274 ($236,140) to an NGO that operated the national victim assistance program, voluntary repatriation, and national trafficking hotline, similar to €212,451 ($240,870) allocated in 2020. The government-funded, NGO-run victim assistance program provided Slovak and foreign victims with shelter, financial support, repatriation to Slovakia, health care, psycho-social support, legal assistance, interpretation, and job training. However, the contract with the current service provider was scheduled to end in October 2022, and by the end of the reporting period, the government had not yet selected a service provider for the new contract. Of the 42 total victims identified, only 11 decided to enter the government-funded victim-care program in 2021, all of whom were Slovak nationals (compared with 12 of 61 in 2020, 17 of 66 in 2019, and 16 of 56 in 2018); the two potential foreign trafficking victims were not enrolled in the program but rather referred to German authorities. The program continued to assist an additional 12 victims enrolled from previous years. The victim-care service provider continued to note persistent concern that after deciding to leave the victim-care program, survivors remained in poor mental states and frequently ended up homeless. 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. The government reported 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 90 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; all but one victim cooperated with police and prosecutors during the reporting period. 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; experts urged the government to ensure specialized accommodations to address the unique needs of trafficking victims were available. 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. 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.
Due to gaps in victim identification, trafficking victims may have remained unidentified in asylum-seeker and detention facilities for undocumented migrants. GRETA continued to express concerns related to the ability and willingness of labor inspectors and the Border and Alien Police to thoroughly screen undocumented migrant workers 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 detention centers during the reporting period, but the staff was not trained to identify human trafficking victims and did not report identifying any victims in 2021. A government-funded NGO, responsible for administering the victim-care program and monitoring asylum-seeker and detention facilities for undocumented migrants, reported its ability to visit facilities was limited due to the pandemic; it had not reported identifying any victims since at least 2018. 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 undocumented migrant detention facilities. It was unnecessary for the government to grant work permits, as foreign victims received subsidiary protection and could work legally, although 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 did not report granting asylum to any trafficking victim in 2021.
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. However, civil society reported pre- recorded testimony was rarely used and, in at least one case in 2021, a judge specifically forbid it. To improve its victim-centered approach and decrease the possibility of re-traumatization, the government established 15 victim interview rooms across Slovakia for vulnerable victims, including trafficking victims, during the reporting period. Police received training on how to use the rooms and interview victims, record victim testimony for use in court, and it minimized the number of people in the room by allowing additional experts and officials to observe the interview from a separate room. The government reported using the interview rooms for 13 trafficking cases in 2022. Experts expressed concern that the law’s limit of one victim interview may have hindered 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. Furthermore, a 2020 guideline 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.
Restitution from criminal cases, compensation from the government, and damages from civil suits were all available to trafficking victims, but courts rarely ordered or awarded any of these. The March 2021 IC report found that between 2015 and 2020, the court awarded restitution or government compensation to victims in only six of 39 cases. The report stated that of 39 cases, the court did not mention the injured parties’ claim for compensation at all in 19 cases (49 percent), and the court referred the injured parties to civil proceedings in 14 cases (36 percent). The IC report did not have the exact number of trafficking victims who had received damages through civil suits but concluded that it was reasonable to assume that the number was low. Prosecutors could file for restitution from traffickers in criminal cases; however, courts did not report if prosecutors filed such claims or awarded restitution to any victims in 2021. Civil society and the March 2021 IC report concluded prosecutors did not pursue a victim’s right to restitution in an attempt to avoid prolonging proceedings; experts encouraged the government to pursue a more streamlined mechanism for victims to obtain restitution, while not impeding trial proceedings. The 2017 crime victim’s protection act enabled the government to grant between €6,230 ($7,060) and €31,150 ($35,320) in compensation to victims from state funding, if filed within one year. The amendment to the 2017 crime victim’s protection act, effective July 2021, simplified the process to receive compensation, enabling victims to claim compensation after the start of the criminal proceedings, as opposed to after completion; civil society welcomed this change. The government provided compensation to one trafficking victim in 2021 after a request was filed by the victim-care provider on behalf of the victim. Additionally, victims could seek damages through civil suits, but it was unclear if victims filed any suits and, unlike prior years, no victims were awarded damages in 2021. NGOs continued to argue excessive legal costs and lengthy proceedings discouraged many victims from filing civil suits. The March 2021 IC report found the national victim-care provider was unaware of most cases in court proceedings, despite its responsibility to provide legal advice to trafficking victims. The report concluded that most trafficking victims had not received pre-trial legal counseling or been made aware of their rights, including for compensation and restitution; the report recommended increased access to free legal counseling as early as preparatory proceedings. In July 2021, an amendment went into effect to increase victims’ access, including trafficking victims, to government compensation; however, though the government did not report if the law has been implemented. Under the 2017 crime victim’s protection act, victims who opted to seek compensation from their traffickers through a civil suit could not also request restitution through criminal proceedings. Section 215(2) permitted, but did not require, prosecutors to drop criminal prosecutions against trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Slovak laws did not seem to require or permit district officials and police from dropping misdemeanors filed against trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit.