Trafficking in Persons Report 2017 - Country Narratives - Germany


The Government of Germany fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore, Germany remained on Tier 1. The government demonstrated serious and sustained efforts by passing stronger criminal statutes on labor and sex trafficking and identifying significantly more labor trafficking victims. Although the government meets the minimum standards, weak sentences for trafficking convictions, with only 26 percent of convicted traffickers serving prison time, undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable. The impact of the criminal statute revisions was yet to be realized given the recent date of implementation. Government-funded counseling centers or youth welfare organizations provided assistance to approximately one-third of victims identified, and just under half of identified victims did not receive specialized care. Efforts to identify and assist labor trafficking victims and prosecute and convict labor traffickers remained inadequate given the scope of the problem.


Sentence convicted traffickers to punishments proportionate to the severity of the crime; increase efforts to address labor trafficking through proactive identification of victims and public awareness campaigns on criminal code reforms; increase the number of victims provided government-funded services; increase the capacity of prosecutors and courts to minimize delay in bringing cases to trial; standardize victim assistance measures and cooperation with civil society across the 16 federal states, including on labor trafficking victim assistance; extend more specialized care based on trafficking victims’ specific needs; expand longer-term residence permit eligibility for victims; and conduct awareness campaigns targeting beneficiaries of forced labor and clients of the commercial sex industry.


The government maintained law enforcement efforts. The criminal code prohibits all forms of sex and labor trafficking under sections 232 and 233, respectively. 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. Amendments to the criminal statutes on both labor and sex trafficking went into effect in October and include forced begging and forced criminal behavior and stronger penalties in cases in which the victims are under the age of 18 (where as the law had earlier applied only to victims under the age of 14), and also impose penalties on persons knowingly engaging trafficking victims as a purchaser of commercial sex. Section 233, however, posed significant challenges for law enforcement and judicial officials due to its complex wording and scope of application. As a result, prosecutors often charged suspected perpetrators with offenses that were easier to prove than coercion in labor and sex trafficking, or reduced charges through the use of plea bargains. For sex trafficking the law does not require proof of force or coercion to prosecute perpetrators if the victim who is induced to engage in prostitution is under age 21. Statistics on criminal convictions provided by the government did not include cases involving trafficking when a trafficker was tried and convicted for a different criminal offense with a longer sentence. This may have lowered the reported number of trafficking offenses recorded, as well as the number of traffickers convicted on a different charge. Government statistics indicated convicted traffickers frequently avoided imprisonment, creating potential safety problems for trafficking victims, weakening deterrence, and undercutting efforts of police and prosecutors.

The government reported actions against sex trafficking in 2015, the most recent year for which comprehensive statistics were available. Police identified 573 suspected sex traffickers, an increase from 507 identified in 2014, 25 percent of whom were German citizens. State and federal authorities completed 364 pre-trial sex trafficking investigations in 2015, a slight decline from 392 in 2014 and 425 in 2013. Authorities prosecuted 89 defendants for sex trafficking in 2014, a decline from 105 prosecutions in 2014. Courts convicted 72 sex traffickers in 2015, compared to 79 in 2014 and 77 in 2013, with less than 30 percent serving prison time. Most convicted traffickers received lenient prison sentences under a provision in the criminal code allowing suspension of prison sentences under two years, particularly for first-time offenders. Of the 72 sex trafficking convictions, 12 received only a fine or other non-incarceration penalty, 45 were sentenced to two years or less, and 42 of those received suspended sentences. In total, only 19 sex traffickers were sentenced to actual prison time, 16 serving sentences between two and five years, and three serving less than two years.

For labor trafficking, police identified 24 suspected labor traffickers in both 2015 and 2014. The government investigated 19 cases in 2015, an increase from 11 in 2014. Authorities prosecuted 12 alleged labor traffickers in 2015, compared with 17 in 2014. Courts convicted five of these offenders, compared with eight convicted in 2014. Three received a suspended sentence and two received prison terms. Of the 77 combined convictions for labor and sex trafficking, 13 were against persons between age 18 and 21, considered juveniles under German law. Juvenile cases are tried under a separate system, in which case the court has discretion to examine the offender’s degree of maturity and the type of offense committed relative to the maturity level. Prosecution within the juvenile system allows a wider range of sentences other than incarceration. Authorities seized assets in only a few investigations, totaling €512,000 ($539,520) in 2015. Prosecutors must prove seized assets were direct proceeds of trafficking, a difficult burden to meet.

Although sex trafficking cases were frequently led by prosecutors with experience assisting 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. Police, prosecutors, and some NGOs also noted a decrease in specialized knowledge, especially as cases moved to trial. 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. According to NGOs, the duration of the average criminal investigation remained too long, sometimes years, and police in many jurisdictions lacked sufficient staff to process the workload in a timely manner. Judges were sometimes unfamiliar with special considerations in trafficking cases and were not required to take training on trafficking crimes and victim-centered procedures. The German Judicial Academy continued annual anti-trafficking training to prosecutors and judges covering the sexual exploitation of women and children in connection with cross-border crime, with 27 persons receiving training in 2016. The Federal Criminal Police organized specialized seminars to educate investigating officers and prosecutors on trafficking. Both federal and state-level police collaborated with EUROPOL and several foreign governments, including Romania, Bulgaria, and Nigeria, to investigate trafficking cases. 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 416 sex trafficking victims in 2015, a decrease from 557 in 2014 (the decline explained in part due to a single case in 2014 with 110 victims). Government-funded counseling centers or youth welfare organizations provided assistance to approximately 36 percent of victims identified, while 48 percent did not receive specialized care, and there was no information on the remaining 16 percent of victims. The government asserted many victims did not receive counseling due to their lack of interest, return home, or return to prostitution. Of identified sex trafficking victims, 20 percent were under age 18 and 34 percent were between 18 and 21 years old.

The government identified 54 labor trafficking victims, a significant increase from 26 in 2013, with one-third in the agricultural sector and one-fourth in the construction sector. One investigation in Saxony-Anhalt involved 18 Romanian citizens found living and working in the agriculture industry under precarious conditions with wages withheld, following recruitment by a licensed recruiter.

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, estimated at 90 percent of the total victims identified. Some counseling centers dealt specifically with boys, although NGOs reported the availability of adequate and secure accommodation was insufficient in some parts of the country. The government mandated counseling centers to provide services to both labor and sex trafficking victims, although many solely provided services to female sex trafficking victims, and the centers were generally less experienced with labor trafficking. There was no comprehensive or long term support available for children and male trafficking victims. Trade union-affiliated and migrant counseling centers coordinated with trafficking NGOs to offer support to labor trafficking victims. The federal government-funded an umbrella organization responsible for NGO-run counseling centers, and many state governments provided significant supplemental funding for victim support.

The government offered undocumented victims a reflection period of three months to decide if they would testify in court. Only those victims who agreed to testify were allowed to remain and work in Germany beyond the reflection period, which was limited to the duration of the trial. Victims who faced injury or threats to life or freedom in their countries of origin or in cases of humanitarian hardship could apply for residence permits. Family members were eligible for residency in certain circumstances. State interior ministries circulated instructions on completing an application for humanitarian residence permits for victims, and NGOs confirmed the application system seemed to work in practice. However, the law still gives some discretion to authorities before approval, and a perceived uncertainty hindered the willingness of some victims to identify themselves and in turn testify against suspected traffickers. Since most labor and sex trafficking victims were either German or EU citizens and did not require permits to remain in Germany, authorities asserted this was not a large scale concern; however, NGOs cited that some non-German or non-EU victims remained fearful of coming forward given the uncertainty of application approval, although NGOs also confirmed there were no known denials of a residency application in these situations. Subject to certain requirements victims may join criminal trials as joint plaintiffs, entitled to free legal counsel and pursuit of civil remedies; however, victims often had difficulty obtaining compensation in practice. The law entitles victims to an interpreter and a third-party representative from a counseling center to accompany them to all interviews. The law also exempts trafficking victims from criminal prosecution for minor crimes committed during the course of their trafficking; however, prosecutors anecdotally cited cases where victims were given small or suspended fines for crimes such as narcotics possession. An NGO also noted that police often raised the issue of legal status in Germany when questioning trafficking victims, which was counterproductive in gaining victims’ cooperation for further investigation.


The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The government did not prioritize labor trafficking as highly as sex trafficking, but continued to increase efforts to assess and address labor trafficking 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 disseminated best practices, provided input and evaluation on the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, and collaborated with anti-trafficking coordination bodies at state and local levels. The federal-state working group against labor trafficking, formed in 2016, held working group meetings in April and June. In October, the labor ministry presented a first draft strategy to combat labor trafficking based on input from these meetings, which included recommendations to establish a national rapporteur, improve coordination within the federal government, and establish a national coordinating service point for labor trafficking issues. The government continued, however, to debate the need for a national rapporteur given existence of other interagency and state-federal coordination anti-trafficking entities.

Working with NGOs, the government co-funded and implemented various public awareness campaigns during the reporting period. The Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) trained officials on identifying victims among asylum-seekers, and implemented standard procedures for handling and reporting suspected trafficking cases among the growing number of petitioners for asylum. Recommendations in a BAMF-funded study on “Flight and Trafficking—Support Structures for Women and Minors,” released in December, included improving the system of identification of vulnerable asylum-seekers, increasing personnel in counseling centers trained in trafficking issues, expanding support for care of minors, and researching why victims from some countries have a much higher rate of seeking assistance. The government, in cooperation with an 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, advising them of their rights and anti-trafficking laws.

The 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, and in November the government published its report on human rights, including national and international counter-trafficking efforts. The government continued to fund a hotline for women affected by violence, including female trafficking victims. The hotline was available in 15 languages, and provided counseling in 86 trafficking-related cases in 2015, a 50 percent increase from 2014. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. However, a new law published in October 2016 slated to go into effect in July 2017, strengthens protections for persons in prostitution, including registration of those employed in commercial sex and requiring background checks on brothel management employees. Law enforcement collaborated with foreign officials to investigate German citizens’ participation in child sex tourism, and a German citizen was convicted in Germany in April to four years in prison for sexual abuse of minors in Cambodia. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel, but did so for troops prior to deployment on international peacekeeping missions. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs funded six anti-trafficking programs in source countries in 2016, including victim identification and prevention campaigns in South America, training of law enforcement and border protection forces in sub-Saharan Africa, and capacity building on trafficking prevention in the Middle East and North Africa.


As reported over the past five years, 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 are European, primarily Bulgarians, Romanians, and Germans, although victims also come from most other regions of the world, particularly Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Most sex trafficking victims are exploited in bars, brothels, and apartments. Labor trafficking victims are predominantly European, including Bulgarians, Poles, and Romanians, as well as Afghans, Pakistanis, and Vietnamese. Victims of forced labor are exploited on construction sites and in agriculture, hotels, meat processing plants, seasonal industries, restaurants, and diplomatic households. Romani and foreign unaccompanied minors are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, including forced begging and coerced criminal behavior. The large influx of migrants during the 2015 and 2016 refugee crises continues to place a significant strain on government resources at all levels and among agencies responsible for combating trafficking. This impacted the overall capacity to screen and identify potential trafficking victims among irregular migrant arrivals, and these irregular migrants and refugees remain vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Several foreign governments also reported German citizens engaged in sex tourism abroad.