The government maintained law enforcement efforts. The criminal code criminalized sex and labor trafficking under sections 232 and 233, and punishments prescribed range from 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. Amendments enacted in 2016 went into effect on July 1, 2017, including provisions criminalizing forced begging and other types of coerced criminal behavior and imposing stronger penalties when victims are under age 18. For sex trafficking the law did not require proof of force or coercion to prosecute perpetrators for victims under age 21. The law also imposed criminal penalties for knowingly purchasing sex from a trafficking victim. The complex wording and scope of section 233 reportedly resulted in prosecutors sometimes charging suspected traffickers with offenses considered easier to prove than coercion in labor and sex trafficking.
In 2016, the most recent year for which comprehensive statistics were available, police identified 551 sex and labor traffickers, compared to 597 traffickers in 2015. Of these, courts convicted 72 defendants, compared to 77 convictions in 2015. Courts sentenced 38 defendants to prison terms greater than one year in 2016, although suspended 24 of those sentences where the prison term was less than two years. Within those investigations were 524 suspected sex traffickers, a slight decrease from 573 sex traffickers investigated in 2015; 28 percent of suspects were German citizens. State and federal authorities completed 365 pre-trial sex trafficking investigations in 2016, compared to 364 in 2015. The government prosecuted 90 defendants for sex trafficking in 2016, compared to 89 in 2015. Courts convicted 60 sex traffickers in 2016, compared to 72 in 2015 and 79 in 2014. Government statistics for all crimes in multi-offense cases reported only the longest sentence imposed and, therefore, did not include cases in which a defendant was found guilty of trafficking but received a longer sentence by being convicted for a different offense, which may have lowered the reported number of trafficking offenses. The criminal code allowed suspension of prison sentences under two years, a provision which is commonly used across the spectrum of offenses, and especially for first-time offenders. Convicted traffickers frequently avoided imprisonment and received suspended sentences or fines, which weakened deterrence, undercut efforts of police and prosecutors, and created potential security and safety concerns, particularly for trafficking victims who cooperated with investigations and prosecutions. Of the 60 convictions, 35 received suspended sentences and served no prison time, four received fines, and 21 (or 35 percent) received prison terms, a slight increase in prison sentences that were not suspended compared to 2015. Of 21 defendants sentenced to serve prison time, sentences ranged from nine months to five years, with 12 defendants sentenced to prison terms between two and five years. Of 27 defendants sentenced to prison terms between one and two years, courts suspended 24 sentences and only three defendants served prison time, all for sex trafficking. In comparison, a higher percentage of defendants convicted of rape in 2016 served prison time (57 percent for rape compared to 35 percent for trafficking), and on average received longer prison terms. In 2017, courts sentenced four traffickers to seven years imprisonment, marking an increase from prison sentences issued in 2015 and 2016, which ranged between two and five years. One of the defendants sentenced to seven years imprisonment was convicted in the highly publicized “Artemis” brothel case in Berlin that followed an investigation involving 900 law enforcement personnel.
For labor trafficking, police identified 27 individuals suspected of labor trafficking in 2016, compared to 24 in both 2015 and 2014. The government investigated 12 cases in 2016, compared to 19 in 2015. Authorities prosecuted 19 labor traffickers in 2016, compared with 12 in 2015. Courts convicted 12 traffickers, compared with five in 2015 and eight in 2014. Three of these traffickers received a suspended sentence, eight received a fine, and only one received a prison term. Of the 72 combined convictions for labor and sex trafficking, 10 were against persons between age 18 and 21, wherein the court is required to consider the maturity level of the offender and then determine whether to apply juvenile or adult criminal law. In 2016, asset seizures from defendants increased significantly. Authorities seized €2.5 million ($3 million) in assets from suspected traffickers, compared to €512,000 ($614,650) in 2015. The revised law eased the burden of proof and time limits for asset seizure.
Although sex trafficking cases were frequently led by prosecutors with experience assisting victims through trial processes, labor trafficking cases were mostly assigned to financial, economic, or organized crime sections with less experience with trafficking or victim-centered prosecutions. According to NGOs, the duration of the average criminal investigation for any criminal prosecution remained too long, sometimes years, and police in many jurisdictions lacked sufficient staff to process the workload in a timely manner. The Berlin state-level police added a third specialized human trafficking investigation unit in 2018 in an attempt to address this need. Judges generally could not be compelled to take mandatory training, viewed as infringement of judicial independence. However, many judges and prosecutors continued to participate in the German Judicial Academy’s annual anti-trafficking training which covers the sexual exploitation of women and children in connection with cross-border crime. 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 had incorporated trafficking courses into their training. Federal and state-level police collaborated with EUROPOL and foreign governments, notably Romania, Bulgaria, and Nigeria, conducting trainings and investigating trafficking cases. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses.