The government decreased victim protection efforts. The government collected limited data on its victim identification and protection efforts and data collection methods varied among agencies; police and prosecutors reported separate victim protection figures and authorities did not clarify the extent to which the data sets overlapped. Police reported identifying 29 victims, including nine girls and five women exploited in sex trafficking; one woman and five men exploited in forced labor; and four girls, three boys, and two women subjected to unspecified forms of exploitation. Prosecutors reported 31 victims, including 21 girls and nine women exploited in sex trafficking and one woman exploited in forced labor. Police reported 11 victims, four subjected to sex trafficking and 7 unspecified, were LGBTQI+ persons. Prosecutors reported two Colombian victims and three Nicaraguan victims. In comparison, the government identified 97 victims in 2021 and 37 victims in 2020. Prosecutors reported 16 sex trafficking victims, 10 girls and six women, received services from the government or with the government’s support. Separately, police reported referring six child trafficking victims to shelters: three girls to the government’s trafficking shelter and two boys and one girl to an NGO shelter. In comparison, the government provided services to 24 victims and referred 11 additional victims to NGOs for support in 2021, and the government provided psychological care to 27 victims and collaborated with NGOs to provide financial assistance for lodging, food, basic necessities, and job placement to 36 victims in 2020.
The government’s 2018 Inter-Institutional Action Protocol for the Immediate Comprehensive Care of Victims of Trafficking in Persons outlined the roles and responsibilities of government agencies in responding to trafficking victims. The protocol required all officials initially to refer potential victims to police or prosecutors, without an option to refer potential victims directly to government or private sector service providers. The government’s national anti-trafficking council trained hospitality sector workers on identifying and assisting trafficking victims; with support from an international organization, it also trained 911 operators on a victim-centered approach to identifying and responding to trafficking victims. The government reported immigration officials were trained to screen individuals for signs of trafficking at the border, in airports, and at ports. It did not, however, provide details about these trainings and screening measures or report successful victim identification through these means.
The government lacked formal procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims among the country’s most vulnerable groups, including individuals in commercial sex and children apprehended for gang-related activity. Due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities may have detained and arrested some unidentified trafficking victims. Local experts reported police, immigration agents, and other first responders lacked sufficient training to properly identify, interact with, and protect victims, who were often mistaken for criminals and may have been punished for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. In addition, experts reported authorities did not screen for human trafficking indicators among families fleeing gang-controlled communities or other forced displacement victims; trafficking victims and at-risk persons among these populations, particularly children exploited by gangs, remained uncounted in official statistics and without access to justice and specialized services. In March 2022, the government enacted criminal reforms establishing prison sentences for children as young as 12 convicted of committing crimes on behalf of a gang. In 2022, authorities detained, jailed, prosecuted, and sentenced children for unlawful gang-related activity, including drug possession, aggravated homicide, unlawful association, and illegal firearms possession without screening for indicators of force, fraud, or coercion. Under the state of exception, arrests of children for gang-related activity increased; media reports citing a leaked government database showed authorities sent 1,082 children, including 21 12-13-year-olds, to pre-trial detention between March and August 2022.
The government provided limited assistance to victims, and local experts reported the quality of care was inadequate. The government had neither a national referral system nor a designated agency to manage victims’ care outside the criminal justice system; prosecutors or police made victim assistance decisions on a case-by-case basis. The specialized prosecution unit had one psychologist on staff to provide psychological services to victims throughout legal proceedings. Prosecutors and police reported collaborating with other agencies, such as the Ministry of Health, to assist victims, but did not provide detail on the nature or extent of such services. The 2014 law required the government to allocate funding for the establishment and operation of temporary shelters for trafficking victims, but the government did not fulfill this mandate. Instead, police housed victims who needed temporary lodging in a makeshift bedroom inside the specialized unit’s offices.
The government operated one trafficking victims’ shelter, which could house 12 girls between the ages of 8 and 17. The government assisted women trafficking victims at its shelter for female victims of gender-based violence, but it did not offer services for adult trafficking victims who did not fit this profile… In both the trafficking and gender-based violence shelters, authorities restricted residents’ movement and limited their participation in outside activities, including work. The government did not report the shelters’ budget or other funding for victim protection in 2022. The government did not provide shelter services to male and/or LGBTQI+ victims. Two private shelters for vulnerable LGBTQI+ persons could assist trafficking victims, though they did not do so during the reporting period. There were no government or private shelters for male trafficking victims. Several NGO service providers assisted vulnerable populations, including survivors of gender-based violence, that likely included trafficking victims. The government housed victims only through the duration of investigations. The government did not offer long-term support or reintegration services to trafficking victims following the conclusion of investigations, leaving them at risk of re-trafficking.
Judges ordered convicted traffickers to pay restitution to victims and nine victims received a total of $14,800 in restitution in 2022. The 2014 law required the government to create a victim compensation fund, including an allocated budget, and establish a technical administration unit to manage it, but the government did not fulfill this mandate. The government reported granting victim-witness protection measures, relative to individual safety risks, for participating victims and witnesses only through the duration of a trial. October 2022 reforms to El Salvador’s penal code expanded provisions allowing all victims of certain crimes, including trafficking, to provide testimony by video or other means in advance of a trial. Local experts reported a lack of adequate security measures and lengthy investigations and prosecutions led many victims to cease participation before the conclusion of criminal justice processes. In addition, inadequate economic and livelihood assistance led victims and witnesses to leave the country in search of economic opportunity before authorities completed investigations. LGBTQI+ individuals experienced discrimination within the law enforcement and judicial systems that limited their access to justice, and local experts reported this worsened under the state of exception. A 2019 immigration law granted foreign victims the right to obtain residency – with multiple entry and exit permission and the ability to work – for an initial period of up to two years with the option to extend; no foreign victims received residency benefits during the year.