Thailand said it rescued a record 1,807 trafficking victims last year. About 60 percent were women, most were labor trafficked and many were Burmese migrants bound for Malaysia, the data showed.
The annual US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which ranks nations based on their anti-trafficking efforts, said Thai officials were increasingly conflating smuggling and trafficking crimes, and struggling to properly identify and protect victims.
Thai prosecutors dismissed about a fifth of 364 trafficking cases sent to them by police last year.
Most were turned down because smuggled migrants had been misidentified as victims of trafficking, the Thomson Reuters Foundation revealed in January.
Unlike trafficking, which involves deception or control over another person for the purpose of exploitation, smuggling means entering another country illegally and is considered consensual.
Wipawadee Panyangnoi, a researcher focused on migration, said officials rushed decisions about whether someone was a trafficking victim, with little concern for their mental health.
"Police don't have the expertise to talk to those under distress ... victims should be given time (to recover)," said Wipawadee, a research fellow at Chulalongkorn University.
While a multi-disciplinary team that includes social workers and non-governmental organizations are tasked to interview and assess the physical and mental health of potential victims, police play a leading role in victim identification.
Jaruvat said police had a "victim-centered approach" but acknowledged that some officials needed a change in attitude.