Trafficking in Human Beings

Trafficking in human beings is a complex issue that plays out at the national, European and, especially, international levels. We regard trafficking in human beings as an extreme form of exploitation that is often – but not exclusively – related to the migration of men and women.

KOK frames trafficking in human beings as part of migration processes, worldwide poverty, economic crises, ethnic conflicts and instances of political and economic change.

More and more people in the world are migrating to seek work. In doing this, they sometimes face structural, psychological and physical violence. Migrants often have a precarious legal and social status, and face pressure to secure their own and their families’ livelihoods through migration, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. Gender hierarchies and violence against women, among other factors, often plays a key role in cases of trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation. Male or female migrants can therefore be affected by trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation or for labour exploitation or by other forms of trafficking in human beings and exploitation. However, German Citizens can also be affected.

In some cases, perpetrators ‒ who can be male or female ‒ make considerable profits, whereas the persons affected face obstacles that feel insurmountable when it comes to asserting their rights.

Human Trafficking - Terminology


In view of the very specific context in which specialised counselling centres and KOK were founded ‒ many of them have their roots in the women’s liberation and other political movements of the 1980s ‒ the focus has for many years been on trafficking in women and on violence against women.

When KOK was created, the organisation decided to concentrate on the issue of trafficking in women rather than on trafficking in human beings as, from a legal point of view, the concept was much more far-reaching than the (recently reviewed) German legal definition of “trafficking in human beings”.
Since then, however, there have been a great many practical and legal developments.
In 2005, both trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of labour exploitation were included in the German Criminal Code [Strafgesetzbuch] (§§ 232, 233 et seqq.).

The EU Directive on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and Protecting its Victims (2011/36/EU) has now been implemented by Germany, which lead to a comprehensive reform of provisions regarding trafficking in human beings and exploitation in 2016. The definition of trafficking in human beings has therefore evolved in German criminal law.
As per the new criminal system, the concept of trafficking in human beings has fallen in line with the international definition, and its status in German criminal law has changed. It is now illegal for anyone to use another person’s predicament or vulnerable residence status in a foreign country to recruit, transport, pass on, accommodate or take in this person in order to exploit him or her. In the case of persons under 21, they do not have to be in a predicament or a vulnerable situation. Actual exploitation through labour, begging or criminal offenses has been included in the definition of labour exploitation (§233 of the German Criminal Code – new).
The law came into force on 15 October 2016.

KOK continues to use the terms “trafficking in human beings” and “exploitation” to depict the issue in all its complexity. When we use the term “trafficking in human beings”, we do not mean it as defined in the new version of the German Criminal Code as mentioned above.
Increasingly, the fields of trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation or labour exploitation and other forms of trafficking in human beings and of exploitation, even outside the legal scope of the offence of human trafficking, are being considered as a global phenomenon and no longer as distinct issues, as work on the ground has shown that in many cases there are shared features and distinctions that are far from clear-cut.
We believe that trafficking in human beings covers any case in which a person is recruited using deceit, threats or violence and made or forced to engage in and continue engaging in services and activities that are exploitative or akin to slavery in the country of destination, thus violating the human rights enshrined in international charters.

However, recruiting need not automatically occur in a foreign country; exploiting a vulnerable situation in the country of destination also falls within the scope of trafficking in human beings.

In our view, the determining factors are coercion, constraint and deceit. Constraint can take various forms ‒ direct physical violence or threats of physical violence, blackmail, illegal retention of documents and earnings, robbery, isolation and fraud. Exploiting a situation of helplessness (e.g. relating to residence status in a foreign country, abuse of authority or debt bondage) also constitutes a form of constraint in cases of trafficking in human beings and exploitation.

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KOK - Bundesweiter Koordinierungskreis gegen Menschenhandel e.V.
Hof 1, Aufgang A
10785 Berlin

Tel.: 030 / 263 911 76