Trafficking in Persons Report 2012 - Denmark

DENMARK (Tier 1)

Denmark is primarily a destination and transit country for women and children from Africa, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America subjected to sex trafficking. Foreign men and women working in agriculture, domestic and cleaning service, restaurants, hotels, and factories remain vulnerable to forced labor. Unaccompanied foreign children who arrive in the country every year are vulnerable to human trafficking. Copenhagen’s relatively small red light district represents only a small portion of the country’s larger commercial sex industry, which includes brothels, strip clubs, and other underground venues.

The Government of Denmark fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. During the year, the government maintained its efforts to investigate and prosecute sex trafficking offenders. The government took some important initial steps to address ongoing, serious concerns expressed by the anti-trafficking community about its treatment of trafficking victims as criminal offenders. NGOs report that potential trafficking victims often remain in jail for immigration violations or petty crimes if they are not identified within the 72 hour legal limit within which police are able to detain a person without referral to a judge. The inherent challenges of victim identification within this short time frame in a detention setting have been noted by country experts as a significant impediment to victim identification. Furthermore, the government’s emphasis on the prepared return of non-EU trafficking victims to their countries of origin, combined with reliance on rarely used non-trafficking specific mechanisms to grant trafficking victims immigration relief to stay in Denmark through the course of an investigation, arguably resulted in a disincentive for victims to participate in law enforcement investigations and prosecutions.

Recommendations for Denmark: Ensure immigration status concerns do not override Denmark’s obligations to protect trafficking victims, including children; ensure all potential trafficking victims are provided with a meaningful reflection period, consistent with the 2005 Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, Article 13 (Council of Europe Convention), to escape the influence of traffickers, begin their recovery, and/or make an informed decision about cooperating with authorities; continue to follow through on plans to change and implement guidelines for police to take potential trafficking victims to a shelter rather than jail pending their identification, in order to build trust and increase victims’ incentives to cooperate with law enforcement; move towards a more victim-centered approach by establishing trafficking-specific short-and long-term legal residency for foreign trafficking victims, including child victims, more in line with the European Convention and the Council Directive 2004/81/EC on the residence permit issued to third country nationals who are victims of trafficking in human beings and who cooperate with the competent authorities; per the government’s new National Action Plan (NAP), issue further guidelines to prosecutors to cease prosecution of trafficking victims for crimes they committed as a result of their trafficking; consider strengthening the role of government social workers and NGOs in the victim certification process for non-EU foreign victims without legal status in Denmark; continue to build capacity to investigate and increase detection of forced labor victims by strengthening links between labor unions and police; continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and sentence sex and labor trafficking offenders under the trafficking law; ensure traffickers receive sentences commensurate with the heinous nature of the offense; and consider appointing a national anti-trafficking rapporteur to improve anti-trafficking results.


The Government of Denmark maintained its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts in 2011. Denmark prohibits both sex and labor trafficking through Section 262(a) of its criminal code, which prescribes punishments of up to eight years’ imprisonment; these are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In March 2012, the government passed a law increasing the maximum penalty for trafficking to ten years imprisonment, complying with the EU anti-trafficking directive. The government reported investigating 14 sex trafficking cases in 2011, compared with 13 cases investigated in 2010, and prosecuted 13 trafficking suspects during 2011, the same number prosecuted in 2010. Denmark convicted 9 sex trafficking offenders in 2011, compared with 11 convicted offenders in 2010. Penalties for these trafficking offenders ranged from nine to 30 months’ imprisonment. Victim service NGOs reported the same trafficking offenders continue to operate with relative impunity within the commercial sex sector in the country. Furthermore, as noted by country experts, the government’s compressed time table for victim identification for detained potential victims provided few opportunities for trafficking victims to self-identify or to cooperate with law enforcement. The government commissioned an independent study on forced labor in the agricultural and cleaning industries, thought to be the most vulnerable industries besides prostitution. Although the resulting December 2011 report concluded that these sectors showed little current threat of trafficking, some country experts questioned the validity of the study methodology. The government has yet to prosecute any labor trafficking offenders in Denmark.


The Government of Denmark took initial steps to improve its protection of trafficking victims during the reporting period. The government reported that it continued to use proactive victim identification techniques to locate victims of sex trafficking. During the year, the government identified and certified 60 trafficking victims compared with 52 in 2010. Of the identified victims in 2011, two were children. All victims received comprehensive services, including medical, dental, psychological, and legal services, although the victim certification process differed based on immigration status. EU victims were certified by government social workers and were allowed to remain in Denmark for 3 months if they were unemployed and indefinitely if they were employed. However, victims without legal immigration status – which generally included the vast majority of non-EU victims – can typically only remain in Denmark beyond the 30-100 day reflection period if they opt for repatriation under the government’s prepared return program or if they apply for asylum. Non-EU victims were certified by the Danish Immigration Service, with input from front-line responders who performed initial assessments, and received 30-100 day “reflection” periods during which time they received a stipend. Country and regional experts note that, although all victims (both EU and non-EU) received support and assistance during this time and it is referred to as a reflection period, the ultimate aim is to prepare victims for their departure from Denmark in line with the Aliens Act, rather than creating an opportunity for recovery and decision-making about cooperation with law enforcement, as required by the Council of Europe Convention. That convention requires that victims be accorded at least 30 days or whatever time would be sufficient to recover, escape the influence of their traffickers and make an informed decision about cooperating with competent authorities. Consistent with the Aliens Act, the NAP defines the reflection period as an “extended time limit from departure.” Because of the government of Denmark’s emphasis on victims’ return, few victims were allowed to remain in country long enough to build their trust in order to facilitate prosecution of their traffickers in 2011.

Although Danish authorities assert identified victims are removed from jails after they are identified, NGOs report that potential trafficking victims often remain in jail for immigration violations or petty crime if they are not identified within the 72 hour legal limit within which police are able to detain a person without referral to a judge. Experts note that 72 hours is an unrealistically short time frame for victims to self-identify and disclose elements of their exploitation and noted ongoing serious concerns about non-EU potential trafficking victims being punished for immigration violations while the Danish Immigration Services reviews whether they are victims of trafficking in persons. Furthermore, the government’s new NAP states, “if foreign victims of trafficking are only identified after they have had an encounter with the police, e.g., in connection with police raids within the group of women in prostitution, the women often feel under tremendous pressure and the window of opportunity regarding identification is very small if dealing with a foreign national who is in Denmark illegally.” Although the government reported it issued guidelines not to prosecute victims for crimes committed as a result of their being trafficked, there is no statutory protection against such prosecutions under Danish law. The government’s new National anti-trafficking action plan called for further guidelines for prosecutors to withdraw charges for victims for violations committed in the course of their trafficking. However, NGOs continued to report cases were driven by victims’ illegal immigration status or crimes committed under coercion, resulting in their prosecution or imprisonment; one NGO cited a case of a trafficking victim prosecuted for forced cannabis cultivation.

While the government reported offering asylum as a long-term legal alternative to the removal of trafficking victims to countries where they face retribution or hardship, the standard for asylum is high and the Denmark government granted asylum for only two trafficking victims in 2011. There were no legal provisions entitling trafficking victims to apply for or receive a residence permit. In fact, Denmark continued to stand out as the only EU country without this specific legal protection for trafficking victims. After the 30-100 day reflection period, victims were repatriated as part of the government’s “prepared return program” unless they apply for asylum. The government returned 12 trafficking victims to their countries of origin under this program in 2011; this is an increase from two victims in 2010. The government acknowledged in its recent NAP that relatively few trafficking victims accept the offer of prepared return. Local and regional experts continued to call into question the voluntariness of accepting an assisted return from Denmark. The government reported it encouraged victims to assist in law enforcement investigations. However, it did not provide further information on the number of victims who cooperated or whether any assisted in the prosecution of their traffickers.


The government of Denmark sustained its efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. In November, the government’s Center Against Human Trafficking launched an outreach program and website aimed at reducing demand for prostitution called, “Out with the Traffickers.” During the reporting period, this Center also produced a training film for health professionals and continued to run public awareness campaigns in various media targeting potential clients of prostitution. The government released its new anti-trafficking action plan for 2011-2014 during the reporting period. Although it contains general aspirations to address some of Denmark’s deficiencies, many NGOs question the political will of the government to authentically tackle its trafficking problem. The Ministry of Defense provided human rights training to Danish soldiers prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions, which included instruction on its zero-tolerance policy regarding human trafficking.

Associated documents