Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Tier 1

Germany is a source, transit, and destination country for women, children, and men subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Approximately 89 percent of identified victims of sex trafficking in Germany originate from European countries, including 25 percent from Bulgaria, 26 percent from Romania, and 20 percent from within Germany. Non-European victims originate in Nigeria, other parts of Africa, Asia, and the Western Hemisphere. The majority of sex trafficking victims have been exploited in bars, brothels, and apartments; approximately 30 percent of identified sex trafficking victims report that they initially agreed to engage in prostitution. Approximately 17 percent of the identified trafficking victims are children. In some regions of Germany, sex trafficking victims are generally between 17 and 35 years old and sold between traffickers to maximize profit. Young German women are frequently recruited into sex trafficking through the “lover boy” method, in which recruiters pose as romantic partners and then force girls into prostitution. Nigerian victims of trafficking are often coerced into prostitution through spiritual rituals. There was an increase in organized motorcycle gangs’ participation in sex trafficking in Germany; motorcycle gangs recruit young women through social media, treat them as girlfriends, and then force them into prostitution. Victims of forced labor have been identified or suspected in the agriculture sector, hotels, construction sites, meat processing plants, seasonal industries, restaurants, and diplomatic households. Subcontracting practices in Germany—including a practice in which companies hire contractors that pay workers not by the hour, but by having completed a certain amount of work in a small amount of time—furthered exploitation, including in the hospitality industry. Labor trafficking victims and suspected labor trafficking victims originate in Indonesia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe, including Latvia, Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania. Cross-border workers from Poland were vulnerable to labor trafficking in low-wage sectors. Members of ethnic minorities, such as Roma, as well as foreign unaccompanied minors who arrived in Germany, were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, including forced begging and coerced criminal behavior. Various governments reported German citizen participation in sex tourism abroad.

The Government of Germany fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Successes in victim identification and prosecution were undercut, however, by sentencing practices inconsistent with the severity of this crime. The German government continued to identify a large number of sex trafficking victims, fund NGOs for their protection, and prosecute and convict a large number of sex trafficking cases. It also improved efforts to ensure residency permits are provided to at-risk trafficking victims by issuing directives at the state level. The government continued to intensify its activities to prevent and address domestic servitude in diplomatic households through new protocol directives, in-person briefings, and a settlement in a labor court in a case brought against a Saudi Arabian diplomat. Despite these efforts, addressing labor trafficking continued to be a significant weakness in the government’s response to human trafficking. The construction of the labor trafficking statute, Section 233, impaired victim identification and prosecution efforts by imposing a high burden of proof.

Recommendations for Germany:

Increase efforts to fight labor trafficking; revise Section 233 of the criminal code to ensure that the proof required under the law is not unduly restricting investigations and prosecutions of labor trafficking offenses; increase proactive identification of labor trafficking victims; ensure that labor trafficking is fully integrated into cooperation agreements at the state level; explore ways to increase the number of convicted trafficking offenders who receive sentences commensurate with the severity of the crime committed; vigorously investigate and prosecute labor trafficking offenses; and convict and punish the offenders; consider expanding longer-term residence permit eligibility for trafficking victims that is not reliant on the victim’s willingness to testify at trial; continue efforts to educate officials on the full range of residency permits available to trafficking victims on humanitarian grounds; encourage prosecutors’ offices to assign specialized prosecutors to trafficking cases; establish an independent national anti-trafficking rapporteur to produce critical assessments of the Government of Germany’s anti-trafficking efforts; explore reasons why many trafficking victims are not provided care through counseling centers; standardize victim assistance measures and government-civil society cooperation across the 16 federal states, taking into account Germany’s federal structure; explore ways to increase asset seizure in trafficking cases; strengthen awareness campaigns targeting beneficiaries of forced labor and clients of the sex trade, particularly in the most frequented red light districts; ensure the prosecution of German offenders of child sex tourism; provide more consistent and stable funding of victim assistance at the state level; consider ways in which mandatory reporting of migrants’ illegal status might discourage reporting of labor trafficking offenses; and ensure that reported conviction data include all convictions for trafficking in persons.


The Government of Germany maintained law enforcement efforts in investigating and prosecuting sex trafficking offenses during the reporting period, but labor trafficking offenses were not prioritized, in part due to the cumbersome labor trafficking statute. In 2012, the German authorities again reported that the overwhelming majority of convicted labor and sex trafficking offenders were given suspended sentences. This practice, in part, derived from a provision in the criminal code that allows for the suspension of assigned prison terms of less than two years, particularly for first-time offenders. Tracking of the phenomenon is hampered by a record-keeping system that does not record a conviction as having involved trafficking when an accompanying criminal charge has a higher statutory sentence than the trafficking statute. Nevertheless, the reported statistics reveal that convicted trafficking offenders frequently avoided imprisonment, creating potential safety problems for victims of trafficking, weakening deterrence, and undercutting the efforts of police and prosecutors.

Germany prohibits all forms of both sex and labor trafficking; sex trafficking is criminalized under Section 232 of the penal code, and forced labor is criminalized under Section 233, though the scope of that statute is limited. 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. In 2012, the last year for which statistics were available, the German state and federal authorities completed 491 sex trafficking investigations, compared with 482 in 2011. Many of these investigations were conducted in tandem with investigations for rape, violence, smuggling, narcotics violations, or other crimes. The government investigated 11 labor trafficking cases in 2012, compared with 13 in 2011. German authorities prosecuted 142 defendants for sex trafficking in 2012, compared with 139 in 2011. Courts convicted 115 sex trafficking offenders in 2012, compared with 117 convicted in 2011. Courts continued to suspend sentences in the majority of cases recorded as trafficking; of the 115 offenders convicted, only 32 were actually imprisoned, receiving sentences between two and 10 years in prison. Compared with sex trafficking, authorities pursued significantly fewer labor trafficking investigations and prosecutions. German authorities prosecuted 16 alleged labor trafficking offenders in 2012, an increase from the nine prosecuted in 2011. Ten of these offenders were convicted, compared with four convicted in the previous year. Three of these labor traffickers were adults and the remainder youths, but none received non-suspended prison sentences. The labor trafficking statute, Section 233, posed significant challenges for practitioners, due to its complex wording and the scope of its application, which was narrowed by restrictive case law that makes coercion in labor trafficking cases difficult to prove. Therefore, law enforcement officials and prosecutors may have an incentive to pursue prosecutions for other offenses that are easier to prove. Whereas sex trafficking cases are frequently led by prosecutors with experience in leading victims through a difficult trial process, many labor trafficking cases were assigned to financial or economic crime sections with less experience with trafficking concepts or victim-centered prosecutions. NGOs and officials also reported mixed experiences with the judiciary: while some understood victims’ trauma, others subjected victims to repeated testimonies or prejudice; there was limited scope to improve judges’ sensitivity, as judges are not subject to mandatory training.

Both the Federal Criminal Police and state-level police collaborated with Europol and several foreign governments, including Switzerland, Bulgaria, Poland, 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 of Germany did not investigate or prosecute government officials suspected of trafficking-related complicity during the year.


The German government improved its victim protection efforts during the reporting period, by maintaining a high rate of victim identification and distributing circulars to ensure application of the residency permit to trafficking victims. The Federal Family Ministry funded an umbrella organization representing 39 NGOs and counseling centers in approximately 45 German cities and all of the states that provided or facilitated shelter, medical and psychological care, legal assistance, vocational support, and other services largely for adult female victims. The umbrella organization and certain state-level agencies took efforts to improve labor trafficking victims’ access to services. Nevertheless, housing remained a problem for male victims, who were usually accommodated on an ad hoc basis in hotels or apartments. Trade union-affiliated and migrant counseling centers, in coordination with the in part federally-funded labor alliance, also offered support to labor trafficking victims. Many state governments provided significant supplemental funding for the support of trafficking victims, but long-term financial funding was scarce, leaving some NGOs insecure. Authorities registered 612 sex trafficking victims in 2012, compared with 640 sex trafficking victims in 2011 and German counseling centers cared for approximately one-third of the victims. Thirteen out of 16 of the German states had formal cooperation agreements with trafficking counseling centers, but not all of these agreements addressed labor trafficking. The government identified 14 labor trafficking victims, a significant decrease from the previous year when German authorities identified 32 labor trafficking victims. Requirements for officials to inform immigration authorities of any undocumented migrants impaired labor trafficking victim identification and chilled reporting.

In approximately half of identified trafficking cases, the first contact between police and victims resulted from police measures, indicating proactive victim identification. The German government offered trafficking victims a reflection period of three months and NGOs confirmed that it was applied in practice. The government offered trafficking victims a specific residence title for the duration of a criminal trial conditional on cooperation with law enforcement; victims were permitted to work during the trial. Most victims of trafficking who faced personal injury or threats to life or freedom in their countries of origin were granted long-term residence permits during the reporting period. The Federal Interior Ministry circulated guidelines explaining the application of humanitarian residence permits for trafficking victims. German law permits prosecutors to decline to prosecute victims of trafficking who have committed minor crimes during the course of their trafficking experience; NGOs reported that this is applied in practice. However, prosecutors in some cases issued penal orders against victims with small or “suspended” fines, in order to close an investigation permanently, without permitting the traffickers to claim that the prosecution is favoring witnesses. While there is no specific provision allowing trafficking victims’ records to be expunged, most of these fines are not visible to third parties other than law enforcement in police records as they stay below the reporting threshold.

German authorities encouraged trafficking victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenders by enabling victims to join criminal cases as joint plaintiffs, and by providing them access to civil remedies; this is used in practice, but victims often have difficulty actually obtaining funds. Victims are also entitled to interpreters and for a third-party from a counseling center to accompany them to all interviews.


The German government improved efforts to prevent human trafficking, but continued to lack an independent national rapporteur to measure progress. While, overall, labor trafficking has not been as highly prioritized in Germany as sex trafficking, the government took increased steps to assess labor trafficking in the country and improve policy, with a partly federal-funded labor alliance conducting research, awareness raising, and victim identification training. In the summer of 2013, the alliance published three substantial regional assessments on labor trafficking. The government continued to take new measures to strengthen efforts to prevent the abuse of domestic workers in diplomatic households. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a chapter in new Protocol Directives on domestic servants, continued to use its guidelines providing a minimum wage and model contracts for domestic workers, and conducted in-person interviews for domestic workers employed by embassies in Berlin annually, outside of the presence of their employers. The German representative for international organizations in Bonn and a Berlin NGO organized for the first time a briefing for domestic workers of diplomats working for international organizations in Bonn. The government sustained funding for public awareness campaigns in Germany and abroad. The new federal government (fall 2013) set forth new priorities for fighting trafficking, including increasing focus on labor trafficking, improving residency rights for trafficking victims, better regulating prostitution, and punishing trafficking offenders more severely. The German government sponsored a variety of coordination initiatives, including the Berlin anti-trafficking commission, which work to improve state-level efforts to fight trafficking and protect victims; this initiative partnered several anti-trafficking NGOs and trade union-affiliated counseling centers with diverse government agencies to develop and implement anti-trafficking policy.

The Federal-State Interagency Working Group on Trafficking in Persons, led by the family ministry, reviewed counter-trafficking issues, disseminated best practices, and provided input to new laws and directives. The working group collaborated with a variety of coordination bodies at the state government and local levels. Government and state agencies undertook a variety of efforts to promote transparency. For example, the German Federal Criminal Police continued to promote transparent self-reporting by publishing an annual report on trafficking in persons in Germany, describing law enforcement efforts, victims, trends, and challenges. Germany, however, does not have a national rapporteur to provide independent, self-critical analysis of the government’s efforts to fight trafficking. The government took efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex and forced labor. A federally-funded telephone hotline for women affected by violence, including female trafficking victims, launched in March 2013; for the period March 2013 through December 2013, the hotline had provided qualified counseling for at least 65 trafficking calls. A government-funded NGO held training sessions on preventing child sex tourism. Although German 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 German government trained military personnel to recognize and prevent trafficking in persons prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.