The government maintained victim protection efforts. In 2019, the government identified 341 trafficking victims, compared with 364 in 2018. Of the identified victims, 109 were children, a significant increase from 60 in 2018. Similar to the previous reporting period, a limited number of identified victims received assistance— 71 in 2019, compared with 110 in 2018. Teams of local officials and NGOs in all regions of Moldova coordinated victim identification and assistance. The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) governed identification procedures. Observers reported the NRM lacked policy guidance and hindered efficient identification and referral. Some law enforcement officials intentionally avoided taking action on victim identification, and border police did not consistently screen undocumented migrants for trafficking before placing them in detention facilities. Furthermore, law enforcement failed to refer two-thirds of identified victims to shelters or NGOs for victim assistance due to poor cooperation between law enforcement and civil society.
Victims received protection and assistance in government-funded centers across the country. In 2019, the government allocated approximately 11 million lei ($643,270) for victim services, an increase compared with nine million lei ($526,320) in 2018. The government often relied on NGOs and international organizations to supplement government employee salaries and fund victim services; government contributions were often insufficient to cover basic living expenses for both employees and victims. Social workers in outlying regions lacked specialized training, which led to inefficient and poor quality services offered to victims and contributed to the risk of re-victimization. The government assisted adult trafficking victims through regional centers where they received shelter and medical, legal, and psychological assistance, regardless of their cooperation with law enforcement. However, psychological assistance, legal aid, and long-term reintegration support were insufficient, and some victims were unable to obtain the free medical insurance afforded under Moldovan law. Male victims were entitled to all forms of assistance, but lacked access to shelters. In 2019, the government in collaboration with an international organization commenced development of a center to support male trafficking victims with specialized services and accommodation for up to 10 men. Child trafficking victims received assistance through the Center for Assistance and Protection (CAP). The CAP shelter in Chisinau remained the only facility for child victims despite children representing nearly a third of all identified victims. In 2019, CAP assisted 18 children with specialized medical care and social, psychological, and legal assistance. Authorities placed child victims with relatives, in foster care, or in rehabilitation clinics that provided specialized medical and psychological care. Children’s rights groups noted the limited assistance to child victims put them at a higher risk for institutionalization and further trauma. Foreign victims received the same access to care as citizens. Authorities granted foreign victims a 30-day reflection period during which they could receive assistance and protection from deportation. Foreign victims who chose to cooperate with law enforcement received temporary residence. Victims in Transnistria could not access or benefit from Moldovan services or legal protections.
The government did not adequately protect victims participating in investigations and prosecutions. Law enforcement seldom fully informed victims of their rights, and victims did not understand court proceedings. Victims relied mostly on NGOs for legal assistance. The law required adult victims to confront their alleged traffickers in person, putting victims at risk for re-traumatization and likely deterring victims from reporting crimes. Judges frequently disregarded laws and regulations designed to protect victims during trial proceedings, thereby violating victims’ rights and allowing traffickers to intimidate some victims in the courtroom such that the victims felt pressured to change their testimony. Consequently, authorities could fine or imprison victims for making false statements if they changed their testimony, whether deliberately due to bribes or intimidation, or unintentionally due to the trauma experienced. The law allowed victims to receive restitution. In 2019, the courts ordered damages in favor of victims for 504,000 lei ($29,470); however, victims did not receive any reparation. Victims could submit compensation claims to the Ministry of Justice when they could not obtain compensation from the convicted perpetrator. Law enforcement recovered criminal assets from traffickers totaling 1.55 million lei ($90,640). The criminal code exempted trafficking victims from criminal liability for committing offenses because of their exploitation. However, when authorities classified cases under related statutes, such as the article criminalizing forced labor, victims were no longer exempt from criminal liability. Similarly, when authorities reclassified sex trafficking cases to pimping cases, victims were no longer exempt from punishment and could be charged with prostitution offenses.