The government increased overall protection efforts but significantly decreased victim identification for the second consecutive year. In 2021, authorities reported that pandemic-related restrictions continued to hinder identifying sex trafficking victims as the majority of inspections were traditionally conducted in clubs, most of which were closed during part of the year, while workplace closures resulted in the identification of fewer labor trafficking victims. In 2021, authorities reported identifying 114 victims (93 sex trafficking and 21 labor trafficking). Compared with 226 trafficking victims in 2020 and 467 victims in 2019; this was a significant decrease for the second consecutive year. Law enforcement continued efforts to identify trafficking victims, but gaps remained, and the government did not report identifying any child, Spanish national, asylum-seeker, or undocumented migrant victims in 2021. In 2021, victims predominantly came from Colombia, Bulgaria, Romania, Nigeria, and Venezuela. The government continued to utilize its national victim identification and referral protocols, but NGOs reported they were not uniformly implemented across the country and protocols for asylum seekers were inadequate. In November 2021, Andalusia adopted its own trafficking protocol, resulting in 15 of 17 autonomous communities employing their own protocols for trafficking victims, which were reportedly implemented simultaneously with the national protocol. The two communities without their own protocols continued to use the national protocol. The government continued to implement victim identification protocols at the Madrid and Barcelona airports in 2021 but did not report how many victims were identified as a result.
Law enforcement officials were the sole entity that could identify victims. While formal victim identification was not tied to a victim’s cooperation on criminal proceedings, victims were still required to interview with law enforcement to formally establish themselves as victims—which also entitled victims to specific benefits. Victim interviewing for formal identification was usually coordinated with an NGO, which would subsequently assume care of the victim. NGOs often accompanied law enforcement into the field to provide assistance and information to identified victims. Victims identified by NGOs or other entities outside of law enforcement were not included in national statistics; according to NGOs, this, coupled with continued gaps in victim identification among children, Spanish nationals, undocumented migrants, and asylum-seekers, resulted in probable underreported official victim statistics. During the reporting period, NGOs criticized the required interaction with law enforcement for victim identification and advocated for unconditional access to assistance. However, the government reported that victims who chose not to cooperate with law enforcement had the same rights and access to victim assistance. Experts and government officials estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the 500,000 individuals in the commercial sex industry in Spain could be unidentified sex trafficking victims within the decriminalized industry, and GRETA concluded victim identification statistics did not reflect the scale of trafficking. The national Ombudsman recognized the discrepancy between Spain and neighboring countries with regard to its infrequent identification of child trafficking victims and, in September 2021, a government-funded NGO launched a specialized observatory on child trafficking with plans to establish guidelines for the identification of child sex trafficking victims and to train professionals on specialized care. In 2021, law enforcement noted an increase in identification of trafficking victims between the ages of 18 and 22, and authorities recognized many of these victims likely became trafficking victims as children but remained unidentified. In July 2021, the national Ombudsman publicly called for improved victim identification, specifically improved victim identification and referral protocols, and noted the pandemic exacerbated the isolation of many victims.
The government reported that the Civil Guard deployed Immigrant Assistance Teams to coastal regions associated with high rates of irregular migration to advise and protect newly arrived, undocumented migrants, especially those identified as victims of trafficking. However, the government lacked systematic victim identification protocols at temporary reception centers for undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers. With nearly 42,000 migrant arrivals along irregular migration routes in 2021, GRETA, the Ombudsman, and several civil society organizations expressed concern over the lack of adequate mechanisms for identifying potential trafficking victims in areas with large numbers of migrant arrivals, including the Canary Islands, the southern coast, and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla. The Ombudsman and civil society noted that some undocumented migrants likely had been subjected to sex trafficking in their countries of origin or en route to Spain. An NGO reported working with law enforcement to secure official recognition of trafficking victims even if they had been exploited by traffickers outside of Spain, which resulted in the recognition of at least one victim. Law enforcement reported that some undocumented migrants were later identified as trafficking victims in asylum interviews, but may have been subjected to immigration enforcement penalties, including deportation proceedings, before they were identified. Upon arrival, the government screened undocumented migrants for indications of trafficking in temporary reception centers, but the centers were overcrowded, and given the lack of an adequate trafficking victim identification mechanism and protocol for asylum seekers, law enforcement did not report identifying any trafficking victims among this vulnerable group. The government took efforts to protect refugees fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine by opening four reception centers and processing temporary protection paperwork. Additionally, in March 2022, the Council of Ministers adopted specific measures to protect possible Ukrainian trafficking victims by adopting a unified model of accreditation for trafficking victim status; accredited victims were then given access to services, secure housing, and a stipend, as well as additional grants to public and private institutions for the prevention, detection, care, and protection of potential trafficking victims.
Government-funded NGOs reported assisting an estimated 8,240 potential victims in 2021, including 20 children and five Spanish nationals. Government-funded NGOs reported providing at least 105 potential trafficking victims with workforce re-entry training, four with legal assistance, 121 with shelter, and 29 with asylum and residence permit application assistance. This was an increase compared with government- funded NGO assistance to 1,468 victims and 4,661 potential victims in 2020. In 2021, the government allocated €7.6 million ($8.62 million) to NGOs providing victim assistance, an increase compared with €6.5 million ($7.37) in 2020. Additionally, in 2021, the autonomous communities received €100 million ($113.38 million) from the central budget to combat gender violence, which included female sex trafficking victims but was not solely dedicated to trafficking, the same as in 2020. However, the municipalities did not receive any funding in 2021, a decrease compared with €20 million ($22.68 million) in 2020. The government, through victim service offices, referred victims to government-funded NGOs which provided legal assistance, shelter, social welfare benefits, language training, psychological services, funds for repatriation to victims, and full health care services through the national health system. However, not all regions and cities had victim service offices; GRETA reported victim services were available in all regions except Castile-La Mancha, La Rioja and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla. In December 2021, the city of Madrid opened its first 24/7 short-term emergency shelter for up to 15 female sex trafficking victims and their children, which assisted at least three trafficking victims. The shelter provided psychological assistance and legal advice; law enforcement and specialized trafficking NGOs could refer victims to the shelter from anywhere in the country. While receiving assistance in shelters, victims had the freedom to come and go, and foreign victims could receive voluntary repatriation assistance. During the pandemic, the government declared all shelters for trafficking victims as essential services to ensure continued access to housing and also enacted a pandemic contingency plan that extended through 2021, which included additional grants to NGOs for the provision of accommodation and a daily subsidy for trafficking victims. However, civil society noted many victims continued to experience difficulty accessing this assistance due to their lack of internet access or a bank account; they also noted poorly coordinated accommodation services in some regions. There were specialized centers for child victims of crime, and seven NGO-run trafficking shelters assisted child victims; children were guaranteed legal assistance. GRETA cited NGO reports that unaccompanied migrant children in Ceuta and Melilla were vulnerable to trafficking in immigration detention centers, with reported cases of children disappearing from these centers. In January 2022, the media reported that an extensive police investigation resulted in the dismantling of a sex trafficking network that was exploiting children living in government shelters; 10 child trafficking victims were identified, nine of whom lived in government shelters. Services and shelters for male and labor trafficking victims remained limited, and officials reported difficulty locating assistance for these victims. In June 2021, the government passed a comprehensive law on the protection of children and adolescents from violence; the law provided additional protections to child trafficking victims, including requiring child shelters to adopt protocols established by the child protection agency, to include prevention, early detection, and intervention measures for victims.
Prosecutors were required to seek restitution from defendants during all criminal proceedings unless the victims expressly waived that right. In 2021, courts granted 86 victims of convicted traffickers monetary restitution from their traffickers ranging from €9,000 ($10,200) to €60,000 ($68,030) each. The crime victim statute provided victims with the right to state compensation, but authorities have not reported awarding any state compensation to date. Assets seized from convicted defendants supported a fund used to fight trafficking and assist victims; however, victims rarely received these assets as the process remained complicated. Law 4/2000 exempted victims from administrative liability for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. In September 2021, though the victim was initially charged with drug trafficking and put through a trial, for the first time courts acquitted the victim on the basis of being a trafficking victim who was compelled to commit the crime. NGOs reported that potential trafficking victims sometimes may have been subjected to deportation proceedings before they were identified. NGOs continued to report inconsistent application of victim protections by judges and called for legal reform to better protect witnesses, including permitting video testimony in all cases and increasing measures to protect the identity of NGO expert witnesses, whose testimony could not be anonymous under current law. The government allowed non-EU victims to apply for reflection periods of 90 days, during which they were protected from deportation and could recover while deciding whether to assist law enforcement; the government reported offering this protection to all non-EU trafficking victims in 2021. Foreign victims could request a renewable residence permit for up to five years based on their cooperation with law enforcement, but most usually received a permit for one year and could apply for permanent residency after that five-year period. The government did not report how many victims received asylum, five-year residence permits, or temporary protection; however, one NGO reported the government granted asylum to five trafficking victims it had assisted in 2021. In both of its evaluations, GRETA expressed concern that reflection periods for non-EU citizens were contingent upon an application to the immigration police. Citizens of EU member states, however, were not limited to the 90-day reflection period and faced no deadline for claiming social services or cooperating with authorities.