The government increased efforts to protect victims. In 2017, the government identified and assisted 137 victims (including 61 victims of labor trafficking, 59 victims of sex trafficking, and 17 victims of other forms of exploitation), compared to 144 victims in 2016 (including 69 victims of labor trafficking, 56 victims of sex trafficking, seven victims of forced criminality, and 12 victims of other forms of exploitation). First responders followed formal written procedures on proactive victim identification; however, government officials and GRETA reported challenges in accurately identifying child victims. NGOs reported a need for greater training among general police officers on understanding the indicators of trafficking and identifying victims. The government trained staff at asylum centers on identifying and assisting trafficking victims in migrant populations. The government published a revised victim identification and national referral protocol, which contained new guidance on identifying victims of domestic servitude in diplomatic households and child trafficking victims. While NGOs referred many victims to the shelters, most victims were identified by law enforcement, social workers, and medical professionals. Conditions existed in order to qualify for victim status; victims must have broken off all contact with traffickers, and agreed to counseling at a specialized trafficking shelter.
The government’s victim protection infrastructure was based on three specialized NGO-run shelters, which were allocated approximately €428,000 ($513,810) each in 2017, compared with €430,000 ($516,210) in 2016. The NGO-run shelters also received unspecified amounts of funding from regional governments. NGO-run shelters provided psycho-social, medical, and legal care and were open to all victims regardless of gender, immigration status, or nationality. Despite the government’s complete reliance on these three NGO-run shelters for the majority of victims’ services, NGO-run shelters carried the perennial administrative burden of requesting funding each year from different levels of government (region, community, federal), often with severe delays in receiving the appropriation. The government also funded two shelters for children; child trafficking victims shared these facilities with victims of other crimes. GRETA reported the government’s child safety services lacked sufficient capacity to accommodate unaccompanied child victims. The government reportedly did not penalize identified victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, victims who were not properly identified, particularly child sex trafficking victims, were vulnerable to such penalization.
The government granted most identified foreign victims residence and employment permits and protective services; suspected trafficking victims could receive a reflection period, which granted them 45 days to receive services while they decided whether to work with law enforcement. If they decided to make a formal complaint, they could receive a three-month residence permit that provided them the right to work. If a public prosecutor confirmed the individuals were trafficking victims, they could receive a six-month residence and work permit, renewable until the end of criminal case. Victims who were not citizens of EU member states could obtain permanent residency only upon the successful prosecution and sentencing of traffickers. During the year, the government issued or renewed 235 residence permits to trafficking victims, compared with 216 in 2016. Although government-supported NGOs provided some legal representation to victims, such support was reduced due to a lack of steady funding. Government-appointed pro bono lawyers could be provided to victims who had a monthly income less than €1,200 ($1,440). GRETA reported the high costs of legal representation discouraged victim cooperation in criminal proceedings. Civil society reported difficulty in obtaining damages for victims, usually because perpetrators made themselves insolvent ahead of trials; NGOs recommended investigators receive more training on freezing assets in the pre-trial stage. Belgium maintained a fund for victims of violence, but victims of labor trafficking reportedly found it difficult to access this fund.