The government maintained victim protection efforts. In 2022, the government identified 150 trafficking victims (53 sex trafficking, 97 labor trafficking), less than half the number of identified victims (312) in 2021. The government attributed the discrepancy to large-scale international investigations in 2021 that involved most identified victims. Of the 150 identified in 2022, the vast majority were Moldovan citizens. Forty-four were children (42 sex trafficking, two labor trafficking), compared with 32 in 2021, and all but one of these were girls. Observers reported police typically referred to services the most vulnerable victims, including children, individuals experiencing homelessness, and victims who needed protection to participate in criminal proceedings. According to an NGO, individuals previously arrested for commercial sex, previously incarcerated, or those with drug addiction were less likely to be identified as victims. To help address gaps and streamline the identification and referral process, the government adopted and implemented a new four-year NRM in 2022. The NRM enabled officials to increase cooperation at the local and national levels, screen all crime victims for trafficking indicators, and provide specialized services to trafficking victims.
The government provided specialized services to trafficking victims mainly at the national level. In 2022, authorities referred 148 of 150 identified victims to services; however, similar to previous years, a limited number of victims received assistance – 24 percent (36 victims) in 2022, compared with 23 percent (70 victims) in 2021. While the law permitted identified victims access to services irrespective of their willingness to participate in criminal proceedings, according to civil society, in practice, victims received assistance only after law enforcement identification and if they participated in criminal proceedings. Victims received mainly short-term assistance (30 days) from two specialized shelters operated by the government in partnership with an international organization. In total, there were seven government-funded centers and shelters across the country, offering medical, legal, and psychological assistance to victims regardless of their cooperation with law enforcement. Male victims received specialized services, including social and rehabilitation services, and accommodation at a dedicated center. Observers reported long-term assistance for victims, particularly long-term reintegration support, such as education, counseling, and job-placement, remained weak, leaving victims at risk of re-victimization. Civil society psychologists and attorneys remained the most qualified to assist victims, especially outside of the capital where government social workers frequently lacked trafficking-specific training. Foreign victims received the same access to care as Moldovan citizens; however, refugees and asylum-seekers received assistance in specialized centers under the Migration and Asylum Bureau. Observers noted a lack of adequate and immediate social support, including shelter, medical care, and counseling, for foreign victims before determination of their legal status. Moldovan law permitted foreign victims a 30-day reflection period, during which they could receive assistance and protection while determining whether to cooperate with law enforcement. Foreign victims who chose to cooperate with law enforcement received temporary residency. Observers pointed out foreign victims did not have the right to social integration assistance and were expected to return to their country of origin at the conclusion of criminal proceedings. In 2022, the government reported spending 14.5 million Moldovan lei (MDL) ($759,960) on victim protection (unreported in 2021). Observers noted overall inadequate resources, including insufficient funding, hampered government efforts. The government often relied on NGOs and international organizations to supplement government funding.
There were two referral mechanisms to support child victims: the NRM and the Intersectoral Cooperation Mechanism (ICM) for the protection of children. The NRM referred child victims to NGOs that provided psychological, social, and legal aid. The ICM enabled social services to refer cases to police when children were presumed to be at risk of violence, neglect, exploitation, or trafficking. The ICM centered on collaboration between authorities at the central or local level without civil society. Separately, the Ministry of Education and Research maintained a mechanism for identifying and reporting child abuse, including trafficking, in state institutions. Nonetheless, reports persisted of management in state institutions participating in the exploitation of children. The Center for Assistance and Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking (CAP) assisted child victims and offered legal, social, and psychological assistance, as well as accommodation to child victims. In 2022, CAP assisted 11 child victims in the shelter in Chisinau, compared with 19 in 2021. The CAP shelter in Chisinau remained the only facility for child victims and provided limited social services for 30 days followed by placement into permanent housing and continued counseling and assistance. Authorities also placed child victims in foster care, orphanages, state residential schools, group homes, or other types of temporary residential facilities due to the lack of dedicated facilities. The government maintained a regional center in Balti for integrated assistance for child victims of crime, including trafficking, designed to provide specialized medical, psychological, and social care and allow for forensic medical examinations and interviews with trained specialists in a safe environment. Civil society reported the lack of services for resocialization and reintegration for child victims of sexual exploitation put them at a higher risk for institutionalization and further trauma. Civil society also reported the need for increased cooperation among social protection services, healthcare providers, and law enforcement. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection (MLSP) maintained a dedicated children’s hotline, which, in 2022, received 353 calls, which led to referrals for suspected cases of abuse, neglect, exploitation, and trafficking. Additionally, the Ministry of the Interior and an NGO established a hotline to report online child sexual exploitation, including trafficking.
With the adoption and implementation of the new NRM, the government addressed previous years’ inadequate protections for victims participating in investigations and prosecutions, such as seldom fully informing victims of their rights or about court proceedings and routinely not providing victims with status updates of their cases, including if their traffickers had been identified, arrested, or charged. According to the NRM, the PGO assumed responsibility for informing victims of their rights, assessing imminent risks and immediate needs of victims, advising on regional or central assistance centers, and ordering psychological evaluation and psychological or psychiatric care. Furthermore, the government amended the law exempting child victims and at-risk victims from required attendance in court proceedings and began implementing video recording of interviews to prevent re-traumatization. The government also amended the law to ensure child victims of sexual abuse or exploitation, including trafficking, were interviewed in specially equipped rooms in accordance with international standards. The law allowed trafficking victims access to free legal assistance without providing proof of indigence; 29 victims benefited from public legal representation in 2022. However, the quality of legal assistance provided by public lawyers was not always sufficient. Not all public lawyers received special training to assist victims and did not always implement a victim-centered approach to criminal justice. Victims continued to rely mostly on NGOs for legal assistance, and NGOs relied on donors to fund such services. The State Guaranteed Legal Aid Council, in partnership with an international organization, provided a trafficking guide with recommendations for legal aid lawyers on how to better assist victims. The law allowed victims to file for compensation for material damage, such as medical treatment costs or destruction of property, but only if prosecutors filed charges against traffickers or cases ended in convictions. In 2022, courts ordered restitution, totaling 210,000 MDL ($11,010), to seven victims. The criminal code exempted trafficking victims from criminal liability for committing unlawful acts solely as a direct result of being trafficked. However, when authorities classified cases under related statutes, such as the article criminalizing forced labor, victims were no longer exempt from criminal liability. Similarly, if authorities reclassified sex trafficking cases to “pimping” cases, victims were no longer exempt from punishment and could be charged with commercial sex crimes. In 2022, the government begun redacting the names of victims in public-facing records of court proceedings.
from 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report – U.S. Department of State
2023 Trafficking in Persons Report – United States Department of State