Definitions and terminology



What is trafficking in women?

The legally-binding international definition of human trafficking was set out in Article 3 of the 2000 UN protocol regarding the prevention, combatting and punishment of human trafficking:

 “Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” (Palermo-Protocol)

Similar definitions can be found in the relevant EU Directive on human trafficking (36/2011/EU, pdf-file) Germany finally implemented this EU directive in October 2016. The statutory offences in §232, §232a, §233 and §233a of the German Criminal Code now broadly mirror the international definition of human trafficking. Persons recruiting, transporting, receiving others for the means of exploiting them and by taking advantage of their economic predicament or their helplessness (for example, based on their unfamiliarity with the country in question) are subject to prosecution. To fulfil the criteria for this statutory offense, no proof for helplessness is required if the victims are under 21 years old. The actual exploitation is punished according to §232  in case of forced prostitution and §233 in case of labour exploitation.

No one knows how many victims of human trafficking exist worldwide, in Europe, or  in Germany. Estimates about the number of victims of human trafficking are based on different assumptions and sources. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates, that there are 4.8 million victims of sexual exploitation worldwide, of which 99% are girls and women (Global Estimates of Modern Slavery 2017, pdf-file). EUROSTAT counts 30.146 victims of human trafficking between 2010-2012, of which 20.800 are victims of sexual exploitation. 80% of victims of human trafficking are women and girls (EUROSTAT 2015). The German Federal Criminal Police reports 489 victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation in 2017, of which 99% were female victims. That is why TERRE DES FEMMES considers human trafficking to be gender-based violence and this is why we talk about trafficking in women. Minors represent almost half of the victims of human trafficking in Germany (45%). EUROSTAT and the German Federal Criminal Police acknowledge the limitations of their data and the high number of unreported cases. This means that the true dimension of human trafficking remains unknown.

The German Federal Criminal Police reports that most victims of human trafficking are from Eastern Europe, mainly Romania (22%) or Bulgaria (23%). Economic pressures and lack of jobs mean that these women hope to get good jobs in restaurants or as cleaning personnel – jobs that turn out to not exist. They are often forced into prostitution. In other cases, the women know that the “job” involves prostitution but could never imagine the realities of prostitution in Germany.

Human trafficking is often viewed through the lens of migration. But of the known victims of sexual exploitation, almost a fifth are German citizens (19% according to the German Federal Criminal Police). Amongst minors affected by human trafficking and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation, almost half of the minors possessed the German citizenship. The so-called “loverboy” method of trafficking in girls is often used to manipulate girls and young women into prostitution.

According to the German Federal Criminal Police, three quarters of the suspected perpetrators of human trafficking were male and one quarter was female. Germans represent the largest group of suspects (25%), followed by Bulgarians (22%) and Romanians (18%).

Nigerian girls and women are increasingly identified as victims of human trafficking in Germany. They were promised jobs in Europe and are later physically forced or threatened with voodoo to keep them in their exploitative situation. They have the right to asylum since human trafficking counts as a form of gender-based persecution in Germany.


What is prostitution?

Prostitution is one of the oldest forms of sexual exploitation of women in patriarchal societies. Prostitution reinforces gender hierarchies and implies the permanent sexual availability of women. Prostitution is systemic violence against women and violates human dignity.

Germany’s 2016 Prostitute Protection Act (Prostituiertenschutzgesetz) defines prostitution in §2 as a sexual act of at least one person with or in front of at least another physically present person for monetary compensation or the permission of a sexual act with or in front of someone’s person for monetary compensation.

There is no valid data or good estimates of the number of prostitutes in Germany. This is a problematic gap in our knowledge. Even though some estimates dating back to the 1980s are cited again and again, there is an agreement, that these estimates have no empirical basis. A general consensus seems to exist both from police and practitioners in counselling centres in Germany, that the large majority of prostitutes in Germany are migrant women, primarily from Eastern Europe. TERRE DES FEMMES calls on the federal government to fill this information gap by conducting research and qualitative studies on the situation in prostitution in Germany.

The reasons that lead women into prostitution are diverse and often multi-layered. Economic needs and the lack of alternative income sources are frequently the main reason. Additional factors are: a low level of school education, a lack of work permit or undocumented status, debt, drug or alcohol (ab)use, or emotional dependence on men/pimps. These women are often trapped in the exploitative circumstances. This reduces their ability to deny unprotected sexual intercourse.   Consequently, numerous prostitutes enter into a vicious circle, which is hard to escape. Only very few prostitutes engage in prostitution of their free will with real alternatives of making a living.

Prostitutes experience violence at significantly higher rates than the average German woman. According to the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ) women in prostitution don’t only experience more violence in the private and working context, but also more threatening forms of violence, as measured by their injuries. 68% of the interviewees in a study conducted by the Federal Ministry in 2004 (pdf-file)reported that they had experienced life-threatening danger. More than half of the prostitutes had been raped. Together with (ex-)partners, sex buyers represent the largest group of perpetrators of sexual/physical violence against persons in prostitution.


Focusing on sex buyers – a change in perspective

TERRE DES FEMMES calls for a change in perspective on the issue of prostitution. The focus should be on reducing demand for commercial sex, not by regulating prostitution. Efforts to improving standards in brothels aim at making prostitution safe, but prostitution cannot be made safe. Prostitutes should neither be criminalized nor made the target or regulation, the law should instead focus on sex buyers and those who profit from prostitution: pimps and brothel owners. Demand drives the market. Huge profits are made on the backs of women.

We demand a change in our policies regarding prostitution. The goal should be to prohibit the purchase of sex and a focus on fighting against the causes of prostitution. The abolitionist legislative model combines the criminalization of sex buying with exit programmes for prostitution. Given that the German government is currently pursuing a different direction, TERRE DES FEMMES is committed to two-pronged approach of also trying to improve the conditions of women in prostitution right here right now. Brothels need to be better controlled to identify victims of human trafficking and improve the situation of prostitutes in the brothels in question. Time will tell if the new Prostitute Protection Act will improve the situation.