The government maintained uneven protection efforts – while victim identification increased, state funding for victim assistance decreased. In 2021, the most recent year for which comprehensive statistics were available, state government authorities, who are responsible for protection efforts, identified 581 trafficking victims, a significant increase compared with 494 in both 2020 and 2019, and 503 in 2018. Of the government-identified victims, 417 were sex trafficking victims (406 in 2020) and 164 were labor trafficking victims (88 in 2020), which included six forced begging victims (four in 2020) and 11 forced criminality victims (11 in 2020). Almost all sex trafficking victims were women (93 percent) and, of those whose age was known, 33 percent were younger than 21. Similar to the prior year, the majority of identified sex trafficking victims were from Germany (95), Bulgaria (70), and Romania (67). In 2021, most labor trafficking victims were from Bosnia-Herzegovina (68) and Romania (24) and identified in the nursing and health care sectors. Of the forced begging victims, all were female, the majority were Romanian, and their ages ranged from 13 to 43.
Police continued to proactively identify the majority of labor trafficking victims; however, in 2021, police-initiated identification of sex trafficking victims decreased, and government authorities emphasized the importance of consistent proactive identification through in-person and internet-based inspections and searches. In 2021, 59 percent of sex trafficking victims made statements to law enforcement, a decrease compared with 68 percent in 2020. Berlin law enforcement initiated a new effort to focus on the identification of boys as child sex trafficking victims. Authorities noted most of the boys were of Romani decent and exploited by family members; thus, they did not consider themselves victims, which resulted in an overall reluctance to cooperate with law enforcement. The government continued to prioritize efforts to identify and assist Vietnamese victims, including by training front-line officials on identification of this population and supporting an NGO that used cultural mediators and distributed a pocket guide with sample questions first responders could ask. As many traffickers moved to online platforms, exacerbated by the pandemic, authorities reported increased difficulty in identifying sex trafficking victims.
In its 2019 report, GRETA noted the official figures of identified trafficking victims did not reflect the true scale of human trafficking in Germany because of the absence of a comprehensive and coherent approach to detecting and identifying victims, including among migrants and asylum-seekers; problems with data collection; and insufficient prioritization of labor trafficking. In its 2021 annual report, the government stated it identified most labor trafficking victims through inspections and therefore significantly underreported, predominantly due to fear of reprisals from traffickers or regulatory consequences.
NGOs were concerned the government did not have national victim identification or referral guidelines to address all forms of trafficking, and children and adults remained without systematic provision of care. At the federal level, there were procedures in place to identify and refer victims to care, but state-level entities handled most victim care. The government also had a national cooperation strategy for child victims of trafficking and exploitation, which functioned as a referral mechanism; it provided €200,000 ($213,675) annually to an NGO to implement the strategy. The implementing NGO reported previously establishing a total of eight networks in six states and continued providing training to officials and practitioners. Each state had a separate system to refer victims to either state-run support or NGOs, and several states had written identification guidelines. Thirteen of 16 states had formal cooperation agreements in place between police and NGOs for various purposes, but not all included all forms of trafficking, such as labor trafficking, forced begging, and forced criminality.
While the government did not report comprehensive data or the total number of victims that received care, it did report that of the 417 identified sex trafficking victims in 2021, at least 129 received care, including 113 from specialized counseling centers and 16 from youth welfare offices; this was similar to 130 assisted in 2020. The government provided victim services primarily through state-funded NGOs, including the Network against Trafficking in Human Beings (KOK) and the Servicestelle, and its affiliated counseling centers and advice centers, which specialized in assisting labor trafficking victims, foreign migrants, and refugees. KOK comprised 43 member organizations, including specialist counseling centers, migrant projects, and women’s shelters; KOK acted as a convening and coordinating entity for anti-trafficking NGOs. This model allowed victims to obtain support without the need to interact with law enforcement, which officials found increased the likelihood victims would seek assistance. In 2021, KOK reported government-funded specialized counseling centers provided assistance to at least 725 victims of trafficking and exploitation; of these 725 victims, only 175 were newly assisted in 2021, while the remaining victims began receiving care in prior years. There may be some overlap and duplication regarding the statistics reported by the government and by KOK for victim assistance. Nineteen of 43 counseling centers provided input into KOK’s report, which included provision of: psycho-social support (546), information on victim rights (530), referral and accompaniment to medical appointments (402), support during asylum proceedings (366), crisis intervention (331), assistance with documentation (320), support during residence permit proceedings (296), assistance accessing a means of subsistence (289), literacy and language courses (213), referral for legal advice (146), obtaining compensation or back wages (80), support during criminal proceedings (72), referral to training and education (71), and employment (43). In 2021 and part of 2022, due to the pandemic, some shelters and counseling centers operated at limited capacity; NGOs noted difficulty in finding open shelter spaces for victims, and social services were unable to provide intensive counseling.
In 2022, the federal government allocated €546,578 ($583,951) to KOK’s management operations, a slight increase compared with €506,000 ($540,598) in 2021. The government also allocated approximately €282,810 ($302,147) to the NGO operating the Servicestelle, compared with €271,000 ($289,530) in 2021 and 2020. State governments also supported trafficking victims and, in 2022, allocated at least €2.61 million ($2.788 million) to human trafficking NGOs, a significant decrease compared with €5.91 million ($6.314 million) in 2021, including some additional funding for pandemic-related costs, and €3.3 million ($3.526 million) in 2020. However, civil society continued to report staffing and funding were insufficient for operational needs, especially with expanded pandemic-related mandates, requiring a dependence on private donations. Government-funded NGO counseling centers served both labor and sex trafficking victims, although many centers only had a mandate to work with female sex trafficking victims. Trafficking-specific NGO service providers operated in 45 cities and in all 16 states, providing shelter, medical and psychological care, legal assistance, vocational support, assistance acquiring residence permits, counseling and preparation for police or judicial interrogations and court appearances, repatriation, and resettlement support. Counseling centers were also responsible for public relations and cooperation with law enforcement agencies or social service providers. Civil society noted many rural areas continued to lack trafficking-specific resources. A government-funded NGO reported establishing a mobile team to assist refugees from Ukraine in rural areas. Government authorities and NGOs noted the influx of refugees from Ukraine strained resources during the reporting period. In July 2022, KOK signed a comprehensive agreement with the federal police to expand and strengthen their existing agreement in order to increase coordination on suspected trafficking cases at the regional and local levels and improve coordination on awareness campaigns and training efforts. Victims were entitled to between 15 and 18 sessions of emergency aid in outpatient trauma clinics. However, a civil society organization reported many trafficking victims were not covered by the government’s health care system, and those who were covered typically received treatment by health care workers not trained to identify trafficking victims. Furthermore, civil society noted shelter for all trafficking victims was severely deficient and lacked national harmonization. There was limited long-term or comprehensive support, including shelter, within centers for children, transgender women, and adult male trafficking victims; civil society noted while there was more availability for women victims, accommodation for men was ad hoc, and children lacked specialized shelter catered to the needs of trafficking victims. Overall availability of services and shelters was inconsistent or inadequate depending on the state. In KOK’s 2021 report, of the data available for 386 cases, 94 individuals were not provided with accommodation because of its unavailability. Another 2021 KOK study analyzed court rulings from 2017 to 2021, including trafficking cases, and concluded access to social benefits and assistance was strongly correlated with preventing re-trafficking of victims. In April 2022, the NRW state government adopted a child protection law, which included provisions for child trafficking victims, that dictated the minimum standards for all 186 youth welfare offices in NRW, including risk assessments and immediate mandatory recording and processing.
The Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) continued to utilize its SOPs and trafficking indicator lists to identify potential victims in the asylum protection system and made referrals to government-funded NGO counseling centers, although NGOs continued to suggest needed improvements in victim identification. Each BAMF branch office included at least one representative to assist in identifying and supporting potential trafficking victims. While the government reported screening foreign migrants and asylum-seekers for trafficking indicators, and identified victims were entitled to social benefits and deportation relief, unidentified victims remained vulnerable and could be deported without first receiving protection services. NGOs reported some potential labor trafficking victims may have inappropriately been deported prior to being screened or given the opportunity to claim compensation for lost wages. Counseling centers reported specialized trafficking BAMF officers were not always involved or included in deportation hearings. Civil society noted non-specialized immigration and police officers rarely identified trafficking victims among the asylum-seeking and migrant populations, even when victims directly referenced trafficking experiences, especially if NGOs or counseling centers were not involved. Counseling centers could identify and refer trafficking victims to services; however, they continued to report BAMF officers often disagreed with their identifications and deported the victim anyway. Federal courts sometimes overturned BAMF’s deportation decisions. In 2022, NGOs continued to note cases where courts denied asylum for individuals who stated they had been exploited in trafficking and were ultimately deported.
Prosecutors, together with other authorities, offered undocumented victims a reflection period of three months to decide if they would testify in court. However, NGOs and GRETA noted the reflection period was not uniformly or adequately applied, and victims were not systematically informed of their rights; they urged investigators to increase efforts to inform victims of their rights. In 2022, KOK reported of 198 victims, 125 applied for a reflection period and 119 were approved; NGOs noted applying for a reflection period was increasingly difficult and complicated by inconsistent rules that varied by state. NGOs also noted that, oftentimes, immigration authorities would request confirmation of victim status from police, which was challenging if the victim did not wish to interact with law enforcement. Victims who agreed to testify were eligible for temporary residence permits, which allowed them to remain and work in Germany through the duration of the trial; however, the government did not report how many victims received permits during the reporting period. Specialized counseling centers provided a significant amount of support assisting foreign victims with their residency status, including accompanying them to immigration proceedings; clarifying residency status was often difficult, though a pre-requisite for receiving many of the benefits available to trafficking victims, like accommodation and employment. NGOs continued to highlight the need for a humanitarian stay of deportation independent from a victim’s cooperation in criminal proceedings. The law provided legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship. After completion of the trial, the law granted officials the authority to issue residence permits to victims in cases of humanitarian hardship, for public interest, or for those who faced injury or threats to life or freedom in their countries of origin; however, GRETA noted there were significant discrepancies from state to state in the application of the law. Family members of foreign trafficking victims were eligible for residency in certain circumstances.
The law entitled victims to an interpreter and a third-party representative from a counseling center to accompany them to all interviews. Subject to certain requirements, victims could join criminal trials as joint plaintiffs and were entitled to free legal counsel, a psychological assistant, an interpreter, and the pursuit of civil remedies as part of the criminal proceeding. The government had a guide for child-friendly criminal proceedings and interactions. The law allowed victims to submit video testimony; however, NGOs reported not all states had the required equipment for video testimony, and use of the equipment was subject to the judge’s discretion. Ultimately, victim testimony by video only happened in about 10 percent of cases because video testimony was not considered equivalent to in-person, unless the victim was a child. Law enforcement noted judges sometimes viewed victims as criminals, especially if their exploitation involved forced criminality. State prosecutors noted additional trafficking training for judges could encourage increased use of video testimony. The government took measures to lessen the burden on victims and their potential re-traumatization by trying to reduce the number of times they had to testify in trials and sometimes not requiring them to testify at all. However, civil society noted these victim protections were not implemented uniformly, and sometimes judges did not dismiss suspects from the courtroom before victim testimony. NGOs also reported instances of law enforcement and judges lacking a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach, where victims were interrogated like criminals or judged for becoming trafficking victims. Furthermore, the 2021 MOJ-funded study concluded the 2016 changes to the criminal code, which were partially intended to decrease the importance of victim and witness testimony, were largely unsuccessful. State prosecutors remarked that an understanding of trauma, trafficking-specific victim interviewing training, protection from deportation, and early access to a psychologist and legal assistance were necessary for successful prosecution of trafficking cases.
The government continued to lack comprehensive statistics on compensation and restitution awarded to victims and did not require prosecutors to systematically request restitution during criminal trials. While the law allowed for compensation from the government, it could only be awarded to victims who had experienced direct physical violence; however, the government did not report providing compensation to any victims. Although the government amended the Victims of Crime Act in November 2019 to address the requirement of physical violence and expand protections to include psychological violence, the amendments will not enter into force until January 2024. In one instance in April 2022, a Duesseldorf court awarded restitution to two trafficking victims. However, traffickers would often claim inability to pay restitution owed to victims, leaving victims with little recourse. The government did not report whether any victims filed civil suits or that it awarded damages to any victims in 2022.
Section 154(c) of the German Code of Criminal Procedure exempted victims from prosecution for minor criminal offences committed as a direct result of being trafficked; however, the 2021 MOJ-funded study concluded prosecutors rarely used section 154(c) because they preferred to use more familiar sections of the criminal code, which lacked the trafficking-specific language of 154(c). The report recommended required mandatory use of Section 154(c) when interacting with trafficking victims. In its 2022 report, KOK noted trafficking victims remained at risk of penalization for immigration and other administrative violations committed as a direct result of being trafficked; traffickers often used the threat of government penalization as a coercive tactic to maintain control of victims. Counseling centers reported expending extensive resources to inform victims of their rights and supported victims through criminal proceedings in 72 cases in 2021. NGOs reported undocumented victims often feared obtaining medical care or submitting a claim for lost wages because Section 87 of the German Residency Act required public entities to report undocumented persons. The government offered victim-witness assistance as needed, and police accompanied witnesses to trials.