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.