The government of Moldova maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified 249 trafficking victims in 2017, compared with 232 in 2016. Of these identified victims, 48 were children, an increase from 35 in 2016. Some law enforcement officials may have intentionally avoided taking action on victim identification and investigation of trafficking crimes. Border police did not consistently screen undocumented migrants for trafficking before placing them in detention facilities. The government increased funding for victim protection, budgeting approximately 12.1 million Moldovan lei ($709,340) to repatriation assistance and seven shelters for victims of crime and family violence, with increased funding for some shelters and programs offset by decreases to others; this is compared with 8.6 million lei ($504,160) in 2016. The government did not disburse all of the budgeted funds, with shelters and protection programs generally receiving 89 percent of the allocated fund amounts. 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.
The government assisted 117 victims with repatriation assistance or shelter care, compared with 124 in 2016. Teams of local officials and NGOs in all regions of Moldova coordinated victim identification and assistance; specialists noted the improvement in the community-based approach police had taken, as law enforcement bodies were responsible for 61 shelter referrals. Through the Chisinau and regional centers, victims could receive shelter and medical, legal, and psychological assistance, regardless of their cooperation with law enforcement. Psychological assistance, legal aid, and long-term reintegration support were insufficient, however, and victims were unable to obtain the free medical insurance afforded under Moldovan law. Victims often struggled to find pro bono legal representation and relied on legal assistance provided by NGOs and international organizations. The weak capacity of social workers in outlying regions led to inefficient and poor quality services offered to victims. These deficiencies contributed to the continued risk of re-victimization. Authorities placed child victims with relatives, in foster care, or in rehabilitation clinics that provided specialized medical and psychological care. Officials interviewed victims 14 years old or younger in specialized hearing rooms with recording equipment with the assistance of a psychologist. Male victims were entitled to all forms of assistance, but lacked access to shelters. Care providers reported bureaucratic impediments to moving victims with severe mental health needs to state-run psychiatric institutions.
The government did not adequately protect victims participating in investigations and prosecutions. Victims were seldom fully informed of their rights. At times, police had reportedly done so intentionally attempting to secure victims’ cooperation. Shelters had little security and corruption undermined police protection. Prosecutors did not maintain regular contact with victims or adequately prepare them for trial. The law required that adult trafficking victims confront their alleged traffickers in person at a police station to begin an investigation, and in some cases on multiple occasions over the course of an investigation and trial; this requirement likely deterred victims from reporting crimes and could re-traumatize victims or otherwise put them at risk. Judges had discretion to allow victims to provide testimony without the alleged trafficker being physically present in the room. Judges 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 so that the victims felt pressured to change their testimony.
The law allowed for victims to file a civil suit for restitution as part of the criminal proceedings. In 2017, victims filed 59 civil suits, resulting in restitution claims of more than 3.5 million lei (approximately $205,180). On January 1, 2018, Law 137 entered into effect, allowing victims to submit compensation claims to the Ministry of Justice in cases when it could not be obtained from the perpetrator. Law Enforcement recovered criminal assets from traffickers totaling 3.4 million lei ($199,320), including cash, vehicles, and real estate. The criminal code exempts trafficking victims from criminal liability for committing offenses related to 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. The government punished trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subject to trafficking. Similarly, when authorities reclassified sex trafficking cases to pimping cases, victims were no longer exempted from punishment and could be charged with prostitution offenses. Victims could be fined or imprisoned for making false statements if they changed their testimony, whether deliberately due to bribes or intimidation, or unintentionally due to the traumatization experienced. Observers previously reported some cases of authorities charging child sex trafficking victims with prostitution or other offenses; there were no such cases during the reporting period.
The government increased prevention efforts. The national antitrafficking committee (NCCTIP) and its secretariat coordinated government efforts. NCCTIP has three staff members, which observers stated was insufficient to manage the workload. During the reporting period, NCCTIP, in coordination with an inter-institutional working group that included national and international experts, central public authorities, NGOs, and the OSCE and IOM, drafted a national strategy for 2018-2023 and an associated action plan for 2018-2020. The government approved the plan in March 2018. NCCTIP implemented programs to raise awareness among students and Moldovan citizens abroad, as well as the general public through a website and a national anti-trafficking week. The government provided partial funding to an NGO to manage a hotline on child abuse and exploitation. The government-funded two separate trafficking hotlines, one for use in Moldova and one for calls from abroad; the hotlines are both operated by an NGO. The government provided training for its diplomatic personnel on identifying trafficking victims. The government did not make significant efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor, but did initiate two criminal prosecutions against two foreign citizens for sexual exploitation of children in Moldova.