The government decreased law enforcement efforts. The criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking under Sections 232 and 233 and prescribed punishments of six months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law did not require proof of force or coercion to prosecute suspected sex traffickers when victims were younger than age 21. The complex wording and scope of Section 233 reportedly resulted in state prosecutors sometimes charging suspected traffickers with offenses considered easier to prove than coercion in labor and sex trafficking. As a federal system, jurisdiction for criminal prosecutions in Germany rested with state courts.
State governments conducted 338 pre-trial trafficking investigations in 2017, the most recent year for which the government had comprehensive statistics (compared to 375 in 2016). Of these, 327 were for sex trafficking (compared to 363 in 2016) and 11 for labor trafficking (compared to 12 in 2016). Of the investigations, 157 (48 percent) involved additional serious crimes, including rape, assault, and kidnapping. Minors were victims in 40 percent of investigations. Police identified 550 suspected traffickers out of those investigations, (523 for sex trafficking and 27 for labor trafficking), compared to 551 suspected traffickers in 2016. German citizens comprised 25 percent of the suspects, followed by Bulgarians (22 percent) and Romanians (18 percent). The number of Nigerian suspects (eight percent) increased threefold from 2016. In a notable case, in April 2018, 1,500 officers coordinated raids across 12 states at 62 locations, including brothels and private apartments, the largest ever for the federal police. The raids resulted in seven arrested suspects who allegedly subjected female and transgender Thai victims to trafficking.
Reported prosecutions and convictions for trafficking in Germany continued to decline significantly in recent years. The states collectively prosecuted 76 defendants for trafficking in 2017, including 71 defendants for sex trafficking and five for labor trafficking. Prosecutions declined from 90 in 2016 and 89 in 2015 and marked the fewest prosecutions in 10 years. Courts convicted 50 defendants, down from 72 in 2016 and 77 in 2015. Of these, courts convicted 47 defendants for sex trafficking and three for labor trafficking. This continued a steady and significant decrease in annual convictions since 2007. During this period, convictions ranged from 88 in 2014 to 123 in 2007 and averaged 116 trafficking convictions per year. Convicted traffickers frequently avoided imprisonment and received suspended sentences or fines. Under German sentencing practices, judges typically suspended sentences under two years, particularly for first-time offenders, for most crimes, including for human trafficking convictions. This weakened deterrence, undercut efforts of police and prosecutors, and created potential security and safety concerns, particularly for victims who cooperated with investigations and prosecutions. Of the 50 convictions in 2017, 26 resulted in suspended sentences and defendants served no prison time, seven convicted traffickers received only fines, and 18 (or 36 percent) received and served prison terms, a slight percentage increase from 2016 (35 percent). Of the 18 defendants receiving prison time, sentences ranged from six months to 10 years, with 12 of those defendants sentenced to prison terms between two and five years, one serving five to 10 years, and five serving less than two years. In comparison, a higher percentage of defendants convicted of rape in 2017 served prison time (55 percent) and on average received longer prison terms. For all cases in which a court convicted a defendant of multiple crimes, government statistics filed it under the charge for which the court imposed the longest sentence. Therefore, official statistics did not include cases in which the court convicted a defendant of trafficking but where that defendant received a longer sentence for a crime the court may have considered a more serious offense. This likely lowered both the reported number of trafficking convictions and the average length of sentences.
Police investigated 12 cases of labor trafficking in 2017, compared to 19 in 2016. In these cases, police identified 27 suspects, the same as in 2016. Authorities prosecuted five alleged labor traffickers, a steep decline from 19 in 2016 and 12 in 2015. Courts convicted three labor traffickers, down from 12 in 2016 and five in 2015. All three were younger than age 21 and received a fine. State authorities reported several cases in which convicted traffickers received significant penalties in 2018. A Berlin court sentenced three defendants to an average of nearly eight years’ imprisonment each in November 2018 in a case of both kidnapping and sex trafficking of several girls from Berlin. In December 2018, a state court sentenced a German defendant to nine years in prison for sex trafficking a minor, along with other criminal charges, one of the longest prison terms to date. In November 2018, three Nigerian women received sentences in the Hesse state court ranging from two years and two months to three years and three months for recruiting Nigerian women as sex trafficking victims and prosecutors filed a motion for the court to reconsider a longer prison sentence.
Although prosecutors with experience assisting victims through trial processes frequently led sex trafficking cases, labor trafficking cases in contrast were more often assigned to financial, economic, or organized crime sections. To improve this disparity of expertise, a federal government-funded NGO conducted a nationwide workshop on labor trafficking for public prosecutors in November 2018. The government’s service center for agencies and professionals working on trafficking cases, Servicestelle, also provided training for prosecutors on forced labor. NGOs noted the duration of the average investigation and prosecution for trafficking crimes, like any crime, continued to be too long, sometimes years, and police in many jurisdictions lacked sufficient staff to timely process the workload. To address this need, in January 2019, the government approved €220 million ($252.29 million) to expand judicial staff, prosecutors, and police for all criminal cases. The Berlin state-level police also added a third specialized trafficking investigation unit in 2018.
Judges could not be compelled to attend training courses, although many voluntarily participated in some form of training. While most lacked trafficking-specific training, many judges and prosecutors participated in the German Judicial Academy’s annual training on cross-border sex trafficking. Officials in various German states, including Lower Saxony, Bavaria, and North-Rhine Westphalia, also organized judicial trainings on trafficking, including emphasis on victim-centered approaches. The Federal Criminal Police organized specialized seminars to educate investigating officers on trafficking. Police academies in various German states continued to incorporate trafficking courses into their training. The federal police (Bundeskriminalamt, or BKA) maintained an information portal for federal and state police forces, with information on current trends, guidelines, and investigative tools for combating trafficking. Federal and state-level police collaborated with EUROPOL and foreign governments, notably Romania, Bulgaria, and Nigeria, conducting trainings and investigating trafficking cases. Germany processed 41 incoming extraditions requests and seven outgoing requests in 2017 for trafficking-related charges.