Criminal Prosecution

Necessary Prerequisites in Germany

In Germany, human trafficking under Section 232 (“Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation”), Section 233 (“Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of labour exploitation”) and Section 233a (“Assisting in human trafficking”) of the German Penal Code (StGB) is a prosecutable offence and constitutes one of the crimes against personal freedom as listed in paragraph 18 of the German Penal Code. As such, the primary task of the German crime fighting force is to investigate cases of human trafficking and bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice. For further information please see the section Legal Framework in Germany.

The unofficial figures for the number of trafficked persons and also for the number of people involved in trafficking are probably very high. The actual number of cases that come to court and that are recorded in official records represent only the tip of the iceberg. With regard to the number of cases of trafficking and the number of trafficked persons no official figures are actually available. The only figures available are estimates.

It is indeed rare that a case comes to the attention of the authorities through information from trafficked persons themselves.
Due to their illegal status in Germany, the pressures put on them by traffickers and/or their psychological state, such persons are rarely in a condition to break out of the situation without help.

This is why human trafficking comes under the category of  “spot-check offences”. This means that in order for these offences to be discovered, more often than not, raids in brothels, escorts’ apartments or on street prostitutes are necessary.   

It is of the utmost importance here that trafficked persons are seen as victims of a criminal act and are officially recognised as such. It depends very much on the sensitiveness of the police officers involved and their knowledge in the area of trafficking, whether or not they recognise trafficking in progress while on the job. It also depends on the priorities set for their particular operation. If a certain raid is meant to discover migrant women in the sex industry who are illegally residing in Germany, the frequent result of such a raid is that the women are simply treated as offenders. The fact that they might be the victims in the situation doesn’t come into play.

It is seldom that a trafficked person will bring the authorities’ notice to the fact that she herself has been victimised and that crimes have been committed against her. Such persons who come from safe third countries run the risk of being deported, because they are not in possession of a residence permit. Perons who have a legal right to residence (i.e. married women or EU-citizens) are not deported, but due to a lack of information on the side of the police, they are not informed of the possibilities to prosecute or seek assistance from counselling centres in Germany. 

In such cases trafficked persons can not avail of their right to support and counselling through non-governmental counselling centres. It should also be noted that in such cases the relevant police authorities receive no information as to the perpetration of human trafficking.

Identifying Trafficked Persons as Such

After being discovered by the police, it is very difficult for trafficked persons to gain recognition as such. These are some of the reasons:

  • they are often only seen in the light of criminals and treated as such 
  • they have a fear of interrogations 
  • they harbour a deep mistrust for all authorities 
  • they fear the incalculable consequences and the resulting situation, if they should make an official statement 
  • they lack knowledge of their rights and face restrictive laws in Germany 
  • they are very fearful of the revenge that will be taken by the traffickers through their networks. In order to intimidate them, the women are told in detail about the far reaching influence of these networks.

It is therefore necessary that officers on duty keep an eye out for indications of trafficking activities. Indications of trafficking can be objective in nature, e.g. missing passport, no money, evidence of abuse, police knowledge of the area or the people involved. Nonverbal indication can also be found, e.g. strange appearance or strange behaviour on the part of the persons.

Since trafficked persons as victims of a criminal act have a right to professional advice and support, the police dealing with the case should inform the women of the existence of non-governmental bodies that can offer advice. 

Prosecution, Victim Protection and Prevention

The justice authorities are mainly interested in prosecuting perpetrators and securing a sentence which cannot be reverted. In this constellation the trafficked persons are seen in their role as witnesses simply as instruments to secure useful evidence. Of course we accept that crime fighting is an important aim of the state. Our work at the KOK however concentrates more on the persons traumatic experiences and their victimizing rather than on their function as witnesses. It is our goal to enable the persons through our support to stabilise their situation and regain control over their lives. If through this, a person feels ready to take the stand as a witness against her traffickers, if the decision to do so comes about of her own free will and if she deems the process to be closure for her ordeal and an ultimate breakaway from the people who put her through it, then both the aims of the justice authorities and our aims as KOK e.V. can be attained.  (i.e. a successful prosecution due to the high quality of the witness’ statements in court and the respect and support due to trafficked persons.) To reduce the role of trafficked persons in this process to that of a mere function would put the attainment of both these goals considerably at risk.

Making it more difficult for migrants to enter Germany does not automatically result in the prevention of trafficking in persons. In most cases of trafficking, the point of departure for the whole process is the persons decision to migrate. The more difficulties you put in the path of people when trying to migrate under their own steam, all the more dependent do they become on trafficking structures. The more illegal their situation becomes in Germany, all the more difficult does it become for them to break free of trafficking structures.

Demands to strengthen the legal position of trafficked persons result in the acknowledgement of their right to restitution for the crimes committed against them. Since the risk to the traffickers increases with each alternative course of action offered to people, a strengthening of the peoples position also results in a better chance for crime prevention.

KOK e.V. is being supported
by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth

KOK supports the nationwide helpline violence against women. For further information, please visit