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Germany - Prostitution and Trafficking

May, 2005

From Stephanie Weiland

Germany is known as the European sex market for Thai women and is a major center of trafficking in women and children for the purpose of prostitution. It is important to note that prostitution and trafficking are separate issues with according legal structures, but both can be seen as manifestations of violence against women and children. Alarming health and welfare statistics suggest that legal measures taken to protect prostitutes have been unsuccessful. German demand for prostitutes has also led many to travel abroad, with a significant number going to Thailand. The Thailand-Germany connection is also significant with respect to numbers of Thai women who go to Germany every year, ultimately for prostitution.


An estimated 18% of German men admit to regularly paying for sex (1.2 million men) [1]. However, the number must be at least a little closer to some unofficial estimates of one in three men since Germany's booming commercial sex industry has a yearly turnover of around €14 billion ($18 billion) [2]. T3is demand has contributed to the existence of an estimated 400,000 (legal) prostitutes in Germany [3] and unknown numbers of illegal prostitutes. Although prostitution is legal, even those with citizenship or visas remain reluctant to register with authorities [4]. About 75% of prostitutes in Germany are foreign, most coming from Eastern Europe [5], and an estimated 150,000 to 500,000 enter Germany illegally each year [6].


Germany is both a receiving and a transit country for trafficked people. The UN Centre for International Crime Prevention has found that Germany is the most frequent destination country for people traffickers. The Federal Criminal Office (BKA) reported that the numbers of known and registered victims of trafficking in 2003 was 1,235, and the percentage of registered victims under age 18 was about 5% [7]. Of the registered victims, 80 percent came from Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union, primarily Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, Lithuania, Slovakia, Latvia, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic [8]. Non-European victims came mostly from Africa and Asia. The transit of trafficked people into and through Germany is not only East-West, but Thai and other Asian women are often trafficked South-North because of easy entry through Scandinavian countries as well as Italy and Albania.

Traffickers in Germany tend to use standard methods of recruitment — promises of legitimate jobs — and victims are contacted personally or through advertisements. Very often there are national agents working in supplier countries. Many victims believe they are coming for legitimate work even if entering on a tourist visa. Then, to stay, they are forced to marry or have passports confiscated and are put in debt bondage. Mail order brides and paper marriages are another method used to traffic women. In some cases, German mothers even buy the girls for their sons [9]. Some victims legitimately marry and then are sold by their husbands or are forced to run away from violent husbands and have no legal status and thus few other options for survival besides prostitution.


It is difficult to estimate the number of children involved in prostitution or trafficking in Germany. Young girls are often trafficked from abroad with false passports that disguise their true ages and identities. Studies cited by the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women and Children also indicate that many trafficking victims who seek legal assistance in Germany are between the ages of 15 and 21 [10]. In one case, about 150 children from Somalia, Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, and the former Yugoslavia who had been seeking asylum in Germany disappeared from a youth home in Eindhoven and experts believe the children may have been forced into prostitution [11].

Additionally, a German UNICEF report of October 2003 characterized a region in the Czech Republic close to the German border as a "haven for peadophilia." German media reports have claimed that children as young as 5 years old are involved with prostitution in this border area [12]. The kids are not mainly from the border region, but pimps bring them from Eastern Europe. Some children, including babies, are sold to the foreign customers to serve as prostitutes in Western Europe and customers come in cars with German number plates, most from nearby Bavaria and Saxony. They pay the children €5-25 (around $6-30) for sexual favors while locals turn a blind eye [13].


Prostitution and trafficking are not only manifestations of violence against women and children in German society. In 2003, the Federal Ministry of Family, Seniors, Women, and Youth estimated that there were approximately 45,000 cases per year of domestic violence against women [14]. Also in 2003, according to police criminal statistics, 8,766 cases of rape and serious sexual coercion were registered [15]. Of course rape is typically underreported, but Germany’s rape rate of 9.13 per 100,000 people is one of the highest in Europe [16].

Against children in 2003, 15,430 cases of sexual abuse were recorded, and in the same year, there were 169 cases of serious sexual abuse of children for the purpose of producing and publishing pornographic material [17]. The number of cases of possession or distribution of child pornography increased from 2,002 in 2002 to 2,868 in 2003 according to an analysis of the issue conducted by the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation [18].


Interestingly, after a decline in the HIV rate of infection in the 1990s, the Robert Koch Institute reported that the number of HIV infections since 2001 has been rising steadily; a 33 percent rise in three years, of which only half of the increase represented the incidence among gay men [19]. In addition, a 2003 survey found that condom usage in general was falling: among those surveyed 78 percent used condoms, down five percent over two years; manufacturers are even selling fewer condoms in Germany [20]. Explanations for the increase include more risky sexual behavior among young people as well as the elimination of the law for mandatory health checks for prostitutes in 2001. The NGO Mit-Schutz claims that ever since the compulsory health checks have stopped, sex workers are increasingly working without condoms and nobody knows how many are infected [21].


Prostitution is legal in Germany, and since 2001, laws have legalized pimping and brothel keeping as well as stipulating that prostitutes have access to social security and the courts to demand their rights. Of course, the 2001 law that meant to improve the rights of prostitutes does nothing to help foreign and unregistered prostitutes in Germany without a legal work permit. For possession of child pornography, the maximum sentence is one year in prison; the sentence for distribution is five years. The law makes the sexual abuse of children by citizens abroad punishable even if the action is not illegal in the child's own country.

Criminal law prohibits trafficking in persons and makes the offense punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. In December, parliament passed a bill to implement the European Union Council Framework Decision on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and the U.N. Protocol. It extends the definition of trafficking to include trafficking for both sex and labor purposes. In 2003, the number of sex trafficking investigations increased by 20 percent compared to 2002, but the number of trafficking victims increased by 37 percent [22]. In Berlin, a major center for trafficked women from Eastern Europe, there were only 17 convictions for trafficking in 2003 [23]. Most victims who are found are deported. Of the 1,108 registered non-German victims of trafficking in 2003, 35.8 percent were expelled or deported, 17.3 percent returned to their home countries of their own free will, and 23.9 percent were granted a temporary stay or remained under police protection [24].

Foreign and trafficked women generally do not have many legal rights. The book Diary of Prang documents a case where a Thai woman who ended up in a German brothel had a chance to testify against her traffickers but was not believed to have been trafficked since she had been a prostitute at one time in Thailand [25]. This case is an example of how even court access and legal immigration status cannot help victims of trafficking.

Phony marriages are often a tool of traffickers whereby a woman enters Germany in legal immigration status. Once the German government receives proof of a marriage, the women will be allowed to stay 3 years, then have to confirm the marriage for residence permit to be extended [26]. But, traffickers usually abandon the women at that point. According to the German Embassy in Thailand, 30,000 visas are issued each year and 80% are to females [27].

Germany’s welfare reform laws in concert with the legality of prostitution could be considered a case of state-sponsored trafficking since the UN defines trafficking as “recruitment by coercion into prostitution.” The welfare laws stipulate that any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job, including in the sex industry, or lose social benefits. Brothel owners are granted access to official databases of jobseekers and job centers must treat employers looking for prostitutes the same as those looking for nurses. Job centers that refuse can be sued [28]. If the threat of losing social benefits can be called economic coercion, this could be considered state-sponsored trafficking.


Despite the legalization of prostitution at home, a significant number of German tourists still seek prostitutes while on holiday. As many as 200,000 German men travel abroad each year intentionally as prostitution tourists, quite a few of whom are seeking girls under the age of 14 [29]. Thailand has long been known as a magnet for sex tourists. In 2004, 10.5 million tourists went to Thailand, Germans representing a high percentage, and there were only about a third as many females as males among German tourists [30]. The average age of German tourists to Thailand is 46 years, and the age group with the highest percentage of tourists is 45-55 years [31]. Additionally, Germans represent a high percentage of foreign pedophiles in Thailand. Of the cases in Thailand yearly, roughly 25% are from the US, 18% are from Germany, 13% are from the UK, and 12% are from Australia [32].

The Chiang Rai City Pillar represents a more symbolic and spiritual connection between Germany and Thailand in the realm of sexuality. The pillar has more than 100 phallic symbols and has been there since the 14th century. A few years ago, it was restored with help of a large financial grant from the German government. This support is a very spiritually significant act because the province is known for the frequency of parents selling children into the sex industry and people regularly make offerings at this pillar for sexual prowess.


The trafficking of Thai women and children to Germany is a special case that deserves attention. Germany has the largest concentration of Thai girls in prostitution in all of Europe—even more than Amsterdam, although it is less obvious. FIZ (Women’s Information Centre) estimated that in 1999 there were 80,000 Thai women in Germany legally and another 16,000 or more of them under illegal status. According to diplomatic sources, in 1998, there were 2,000 Thai prostitutes in Berlin. More recent estimates are that of the 6,000 prostitutes in Berlin, about half should be Thai because of the 10-12,000 Thai women in Berlin, about 30% have been involved in prostitution.

Life is dangerous for many of them, since often they are in Germany without proper working visas, in debt bondage, and without the protection of the law. Visa restrictions have done little to stem the flow of Thai girls to Germany; in fact, they have only increased the ‘debts’ of those trafficked up to €60,000. It is often impossible to pay off these ‘debts’ since Thai prostitutes earn only 40-50% of what their German counterparts earn. In this environment of fear and bondage, the customers have ever more power to exploit the prostitutes and demand things like sex without a condom. According to unnamed sources, around 50% of the women in STD clinics in Germany are Thai. Of course, Thai prostitutes are probably treated equally as badly as other trafficked people. The traffic of Thai women to Germany has decreased relative to those from Eastern Europe since the break up of the USSR in the early 1990s.

The true stories included in this document illustrate what life can be like for Thai women who are trafficked to Germany.

[1] “Stolen Youth: Child Prostitution Plagues German-Czech Border,” Deutsche Welle, 29 October 2003.

[2] “The License to Have Sex,” Deutsche Welle, 24 January 2005.

[3] “What German Prostitutes Want,” Deutsche Welle, 24 April 2004.

[4] Ibid.

[5] "Trafficking of Women to the European Union: Characteristic, Trends and Policy Issues," European Conference on Trafficking in Women, June 1996, IOM, 7 May 1996, quoted in Hughes, Donna M., Laura Joy Sporcic, Nadine Z. Mendelsohn, and Vanessa Chirgwin, The Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation: Germany, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, 1999,

[6] Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, “A Human Rights Report on Trafficking of Persons,” The Protection Project, March 2002.

[7] US Department of State, 2004Trafficking in Persons Report, Washington DC: July 2004.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Personal communication between German man and Patricia Green.

[10] GAATW, “A Human Rights Report on Trafficking of Persons,” The Protection Project, March 2002.

[11] Dutch TV Says 150 Youth Asylum Seekers Taken from House,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 28 January 1996.

[12] “Sex Business on the Border,” Deutsche Welle, 18 December 2002.

[13] “Stolen Youth: Child Prostitution Plagues German-Czech Border,” Deutsche Welle, 29 October 2003.

[14] US Department of State, 2004 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 28, 2005.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Cundiff, Kirby R. “Prostitution and Sex Crimes,” Independent Institute Working Paper No. 50, Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute, 8 April 2004, page 4.

[17] US Department of State, 2004 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 28, 2005.

[18] Ibid.

[19] “Young Germans Face Rising HIV Rates,” Deutsche Welle, 15 July 2004.

[20] Ibid.

[21] “The License to Have Sex,” Deutsche Welle

[22] US Department of State, 2004 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 28, 2005.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Skrobanek, Siriporn. The Diary of Prang. Bangkok: Women Press, Foundation for Women, 1994.

[26] Tommy Calvert, American Anti-Slavery Group, Boston, MA, personal communication, 6 May 2004.

[27] Response to enquiry at German Embassy in Thailand, 2000.

[28] The London Telegraph, 1 March 2005.

[29] Emma Thomasson, "Germany Launches Offensive on Child Sex Crimes," Reuters, 29 July 1997.

[30] Thailand Immigration Bureau, Tourism Authority of Thailand Statistics, January 2004, available at

[31] Ibid.

[32] GAATW, “A Human Rights Report on Trafficking of Persons,” The Protection Project, March 2002.

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