The government maintained efforts to protect victims. In 2017, the government identified 75 victims (32 in 2016 and 25 in 2015). NGOs identified an additional 13 victims. Of the 88 total victims identified, 58 were female (including 11 underage girls), 30 were male, and two were foreign citizens. Sexual exploitation remained the most common form of trafficking, with 38 cases reported by the police, followed by forced begging (16 victims), forced labor (15 victims), forced marriage (seven victims), forced engagement in criminal activities (three victims), and unknown (one victim); some cases included multiple forms of exploitation. The national police reported 60 of the 75 victims formally identified by law enforcement involved Slovak victims exploited in other countries, mainly the UK and Germany. GRETA’s critique remained relevant that the identification of foreign national, unaccompanied minor, and Slovak national victims within the country remained a challenge, and the statistics on identified victims did not reflect the actual scale of this phenomenon in the country.
The MOI state secretary acted as the national coordinator on anti-trafficking efforts and approved the official identification of victims and their enrollment into the victim assistance program. Some NGOs continued to criticize the government’s victim assistance program for placing too high a burden of proof on the victim, impeding access to care services, and allowing too much discretion by law enforcement to decide whether a potential victim could enroll in the program. Of the 88 victims, 19 entered the government-funded victim care program in 2017 (21 of 45 total victims in 2016 and 25 of 28 total victims in 2015). The government reported a lower percentage of victims entered the program in 2017 because they did not require the full range of services. In 2017, the government provided €275,000 ($330,130) to two NGOs for the victim assistance program, compared to €221,600 ($266,030) in 2016, and €213,000 ($255,700) in 2015. This funding covered the support and care of victims, voluntary return of victims, and the national trafficking hotline. The MOI allocated €19,000 ($22,810) in grants for anti-trafficking projects.
NGOs provided victims shelter and care services, including financial support, repatriation to Slovakia, health care, psycho-social support, and legal and interpretation services. Shelters for domestic violence victims housed trafficking victims separately. There were limited accommodations for victims with families. The government did not fund a specialized victim care provider dedicated to child victims. Child trafficking victims could be accommodated in government-run children’s homes or an NGO-run crisis home for children; no children entered the care program in 2017 (six in 2016). While law enforcement and social workers had procedures to refer victims to the national coordinator or care facilities, other officials lacked such procedures, including health care specialists, employees of foster homes, and counselors of offices of labor, social affairs, and family. The MOI began outlining procedures for these professionals.
The government did not adequately identify foreign trafficking victims; NGOs reported authorities did not properly identify potential victims among migrants or refer them to services because it encouraged them to take advantage of assisted voluntary return. Experts criticized government screening, outreach, and prevention efforts among foreign workers as insufficient, especially among Serbian and Ukrainian temporary workers employed in the manufacturing and construction sectors. Border police did not always proactively screen migrants for indicators of trafficking, despite having received numerous victim identification trainings. NGOs under MOI contract conducted 10 screening visits to asylum-seeker facilities and irregular migrant detention facilities to provide victim services. The Slovak Embassy in London did not report the number of Slovak victims identified (11 in 2016, none in 2015, and 151 in 2014), but it assisted five Slovak victims with voluntary return in 2017. A government-funded NGO assisted seven Slovaks subjected to trafficking abroad with voluntary returns. The government offered repatriation services for foreign victims, and assisted one national of Ukraine in the reporting period.
All potential victims were eligible for at least 30 days of crisis care; victims enrolled in the assistance program by the national coordinator were eligible for up to 180 days of care without having to participate in an investigation. There were no cases of victims denied entry into the program, but it was unclear what would happen procedurally in such a case. Victims who decided to participate in an investigation were eligible for victim care services for the duration of court proceedings. Unaccompanied minors were automatically eligible for tolerated residency, which allowed a foreigner to temporarily reside in Slovakia with legal status. Migrants suspected of being victims of trafficking were eligible for tolerated residency. Victims of trafficking were eligible for tolerated residency for a period of up to 180 days, during which they had to decide whether to participate in an investigation. Slovak law allowed foreign victims to seek employment, but due to uncertain length of their tolerated residency status while participating in an investigation, employers were reluctant to hire foreign victims. The law authorized the extension of permanent residency to foreign trafficking victims who would face hardship or retribution if returned to their country of origin; however, authorities issued no such residence permits.
All 75 trafficking victims identified by police cooperated with police and prosecutors in investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases. NGOs did not report any cases of coerced cooperation. The pre-trial and trial process, however, was not always adapted, nor law enforcement, prosecutors, or judges sufficiently trained, to avoid re-traumatization of victims. As reported by GRETA in 2015, victims provided testimony multiple times and in close proximity to suspected traffickers during the pre-trial and trial process. The government passed a crime victims protection law, effective January 1, 2018, that provided psychological assistance and legal counsel to victims in pre-trial proceedings and reclassified trafficking victims as “particularly vulnerable victims,” which were not to be subject to direct cross-examination. NGOs reported little clarity regarding practical implications of the law and its application, and skepticism that judges would be willing and able to enforce the new provisions. Witness protection programs existed, but had not been used to protect trafficking victims. The new law also facilitated victims’ claims for compensation from the state during criminal proceedings. Although Slovak law allowed victims to pursue restitution through civil and criminal cases, experts noted judges did not award damages in the majority of cases, whether criminal or civil proceedings, and victims lacked legal and financial support to pursue damage claims in the various stages of extremely lengthy proceedings. The government did not report cases of victims being awarded restitution. Moreover, experts noted lawyers provided by the government might not have had relevant experience and knowledge to handle trafficking cases. There were no reports of the government penalizing victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, however, unidentified foreign victims may have been prosecuted or deported. As reported by GRETA, the law outlined 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 imprisonment of five years; it did not cover administrative offenses.