Trafficking in Persons Report 2015 - Country Narratives - Germany


Germany is a source, transit, and destination country for women, children, and men subjected to sex and labor trafficking. Most identified sex trafficking victims in Germany (86 percent in 2013) are European nationals, primarily Bulgarians, Romanians, and Germans. Nationals of Nigeria, other parts of Africa, Asia, and the Western Hemisphere are also subjected to sex trafficking in Germany. Most sex trafficking victims are exploited in bars, brothels, and apartments. A substantial number of identified sex trafficking victims (22 percent in 2013) reported they had initially agreed to engage in prostitution. Approximately half of identified victims are under the age of 21. Asylum seekers are increasingly vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking in Germany and traffickers use asylum shelters to find victims. Labor trafficking victims are predominantly European nationals, including Bulgarians, Poles, and Romanians, but also include nationals from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Identified and suspected victims of forced labor are exploited in agriculture, hotels, construction sites, meat processing plants, seasonal industries, restaurants, and diplomatic households. Roma and foreign unaccompanied minors are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, including forced begging and coerced criminal behavior. Various governments reported German citizens engaged in sex tourism abroad.

The Government of Germany fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to prosecute and convict traffickers, identified and assisted sex trafficking victims, registered 61 labor trafficking victims, and made efforts to assess labor trafficking in Germany. Efforts to hold traffickers accountable continued to be undercut by weak sentences for trafficking convictions. The total number of government-registered victims, investigated cases, and defendants prosecuted and convicted for sex trafficking fell significantly from the previous year, while the number of suspected victims and investigations of labor trafficking rose. Government efforts to identify and assist labor trafficking victims and prosecute and convict labor traffickers remained inadequate given the scope of the problem, partially due to weaknesses in Germany’s labor trafficking statute, Section 233 of the criminal code.


Increase efforts to address labor trafficking, including by revising Section 233 of the criminal code to ensure proof required under the law does not unduly restrict investigations and prosecutions of labor trafficking offenses; increase proactive identification of labor trafficking victims and vigorous investigation and prosecution of labor trafficking crimes, convicting and punishing offenders with sentences commensurate with the severity of the crime; fully integrate labor trafficking into cooperation agreements and provide more consistent and stable funding of sex and labor trafficking victim assistance at the state level; standardize victim assistance measures and government-civil society cooperation across the 16 federal states, and increase the number of victims provided services through counseling centers; expand longer-term residence permit eligibility for victims that is not reliant on victims’ willingness to testify at trial; establish policies to encourage victims to self-identify and work with law enforcement including by addressing the requirement that officials report migrants’ undocumented status; encourage prosecutors’ offices to assign specialized prosecutors to trafficking cases; establish an independent national anti-trafficking rapporteur to produce assessments of the government’s anti-trafficking efforts; strengthen awareness campaigns targeting beneficiaries of forced labor and clients of the sex trade, particularly in the most frequented red light districts; and include all convictions for human trafficking in reported conviction data.


The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Germany prohibits all forms of sex and labor trafficking; sex trafficking is criminalized under Section 232 and forced labor under Section 233 of the criminal code. Punishments prescribed in these statutes range from six months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment and are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Section 233, however, posed significant challenges for practitioners due to its complex wording and scope of application. As a result, law enforcement officials and prosecutors often pursued prosecutions for offenses that were easier to prove than coercion in labor trafficking. Tracking of trafficking convictions was limited by a record-keeping system that did not record convictions as having involved trafficking when an accompanying criminal charge had a higher statutory sentence than the trafficking statute. Government-reported statistics continued to reveal convicted traffickers frequently avoided imprisonment, creating potential safety problems for trafficking victims, weakening deterrence, and undercutting law enforcement efforts of police and prosecutors.

In 2013, the most recent year for which comprehensive statistics were available, state and federal authorities completed 425 sex trafficking investigations, compared with 491 in 2012. Authorities prosecuted 118 defendants for sex trafficking in 2013, compared with 142 in 2012. Courts convicted 77 sex traffickers in 2013, compared with 115 in 2012, and suspended prison sentences for the vast majority of convicted traffickers. Most convicted traffickers received lenient prison sentences that were suspended due to a provision in the criminal code allowing the suspension of assigned prison terms of less than two years, particularly for first-time offenders. Of the 77 sex traffickers convicted, only 17 were sentenced to prison, receiving sentences between two and 10 years. The government investigated 53 labor trafficking cases in 2013, compared with 11 in 2012. Authorities prosecuted 15 alleged labor traffickers in 2013, compared with 16 in 2012. Fourteen of these offenders were convicted, compared with 10 in 2012. None of the 14 convicted labor traffickers were imprisoned. Whereas sex trafficking cases were frequently led by prosecutors with experience leading victims through trial processes, labor trafficking cases were mostly assigned to financial or economic crime sections with less experience with trafficking or victim-centered prosecutions. NGOs and officials reported mixed experiences with the judiciary; while some judges were sensitive to victims’ trauma, others subjected victims to repeated testimonies or made insensitive statements about their experiences. Judges were not required to take training of any kind, including on trafficking crimes and victim-centered procedures. Both the Federal Criminal Police and state-level police collaborated with EUROPOL and several foreign governments, including Romania, Bulgaria, and Nigeria, to investigate trafficking cases. The German Judicial Academy offered anti-trafficking training to prosecutors and judges. The Federal Criminal Police organized several specialized seminars to educate investigating officers and prosecutors on trafficking topics. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.


The government maintained victim protection efforts. Authorities identified 542 sex trafficking victims in 2013, compared with 612 in 2012; counseling centers cared for 30 percent of those identified. The government registered 61 labor trafficking victims, a significant increase from 14 in 2012. Police identified 54 percent of victims. Requirements that officials inform immigration authorities of any undocumented migrants that come to their attention impaired labor trafficking victim identification and led to under-reporting of trafficking crimes. Thirteen of the 16 states had formal cooperation agreements with trafficking counseling centers, but not all of these agreements addressed labor trafficking. NGOs, funded in part by the government, operated counseling centers in 45 cities, providing or facilitating shelter, medical and psychological care, legal assistance, vocational support, and other services largely for adult female sex trafficking victims. Trade union-affiliated and migrant counseling centers coordinated with trafficking NGOs and the partially federally funded labor alliance to offer support to labor trafficking victims. Many state governments provided significant supplemental funding for the support of victims, but long-term financial funding was scarce.

The government offered undocumented victims a reflection period of three months to decide if they wanted to testify in court, and NGOs confirmed it was applied in practice. Victims who agreed to testify were entitled to live and work in Germany for the duration of the trial. Those who testified were normally repatriated following trials; however, victims who faced personal injury or threats to life or freedom in their countries of origin could apply for long-term residence permits. State interior ministries circulated instructions on the application of humanitarian residence permits for victims. Authorities encouraged victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of traffickers. German law enables victims to join criminal cases as joint plaintiffs and to pursue civil remedies; however, victims often had difficulty obtaining compensation due to inconsistent case law from higher courts. German law also entitles victims to interpreters and to have a third-party from a counseling center to accompany them to all interviews. The law permits exemption of trafficking victims from criminal prosecution for minor crimes they committed during the course of their trafficking experience; however, German prosecutors anecdotally described issuing small or “suspended” fines to some victims for crimes such as narcotics possession.


The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. Labor trafficking was not as highly prioritized as sex trafficking, but the government continued to increase steps to assess labor trafficking in the country and improve policy to address forced labor through a partially federally funded labor alliance conducting research, raising awareness, and providing victim identification training. The Federal-State Working Group on Trafficking in Persons reviewed counter-trafficking issues, disseminated best practices, provided input to new laws and directives, and collaborated with a variety of coordination bodies at the state and local levels. The government supported a variety of coordination initiatives. In one such initiative, the North Rhine-Westphalia Roundtable on Prostitution published and provided the government with a report making recommendations to improve legislative requirements for police investigations and protections for people in prostitution. The Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees conducted trainings and created standard operating procedures on handling and reporting suspected trafficking cases in response to the increasing number of trafficking victims within the asylum system. The government in cooperation with one NGO continued to hold informational events and annual in-person interviews with domestic workers employed by embassies in Berlin without the presence of their employers. The government sustained funding for public awareness campaigns in Germany and abroad.

The German Federal Criminal Police continued to publish an annual report on trafficking in Germany, describing law enforcement efforts, victim trends, and challenges in addressing the crime. The government continued to lack a national rapporteur to provide independent, self-critical analysis of the government’s efforts to address trafficking. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. The government continued to fund a hotline for women affected by violence, including female trafficking victims. A government-funded NGO published a short film to raise awareness about child sex tourism and the government’s newly launched online platform for tourists to report suspected crimes. Although law enforcement collaborated with foreign officials to investigate German citizens’ participation in child sex tourism, there were no reported prosecutions of German offenders in Germany. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. The government trained military personnel to recognize and prevent trafficking prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.