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German Protection and Assistance Policy Regarding Foreign Women Sold into Sex Slavery in Germany


German Protection and Assistance Policy Regarding Foreign Women Sold into Sex Slavery in Germany

„Importware Sex:  Wie  Menschenhändler osteuropäische Frauen nach Deutschland verkaufen“

„Importware: Sex.  How Traffickers Sell Eastern European Women to Germany“ 

--Front page article in „Der Spiegel,“ 6/23/2003

„Im Rotlichtskandal führen Spuren in den Bundestag“ 

„Red Light Scandal Evidence Traces Back the Bundestag“

--Article in the „Berliner Zeitung,“ 6/23/2003

In the past week, two scandals have launched the issue of trafficking in Eastern European women into German headlines.  First, police alleged that they recorded phone calls between prominent member of the conservative Christian CDU Michel Friedman and a ring of traffickers.   Then, the police announced that they have been recording phone calls between German politicians, diplomats, sport figures and media stars and a Ukrainian-Polish trafficking ring for the past six months.   Like most of the media coverage of sex trafficking in Germany, much of the press´s treatment of the recent events has been sensationalist.  Even when the press does substantively cover the plight of the victims in trafficking, journalists often pay scant attention to what happens to the victims after they are found by the police.  Yet the women´s troubles are by no means over once they come into police custody.  In Germany, the protection and assistance of victims is far from secure.  In this report, we will expose the holes in current German policy for victims of trafficking and provide suggestions for a policy that fully respects their human rights.  

In the past few decades the trafficking of women has exploded into a massive international criminal industry.  Traffickers, usually working in transnational organized crime rings, lure impoverished women to wealthier countries, often with the promise of well-paying jobs as waitresses or domestic workers, and then force them into brutal sex slavery.  Trafficked women often live in total isolation, closely monitored by bordello bodyguards, and are often physically brutalized.  Handlers threaten the women with retaliation on them or their families if they try to escape. An estimated total of 500,000 women currently live in sex slavery in Europe.   Because of its location, Germany, and Berlin in particular, has become a major hub of business for traffickers. In 2001, the German police recorded 975 women victims of trafficking and forced prostitution, and among these 82.2% came from Middle and Eastern European countries, especially Belarus, the Ukraine, and Lithuania.  In that same year, 558 of the victims were between 15 and 25.   Because trafficking in women is often harder to prove than weapons or drug smuggling, it has become an enormous, low-risk money maker for organized criminals.  Experts now estimate that trafficking in human beings earns as much money for criminal syndicates as the global narcotics trade.   Women trafficked in Europe are estimated to earn their handlers 13 billion dollars a year.   Given the vast scale of the problem, Germany has recently been forced to develop infrastructure for dealing with victims of trafficking.  Yet the policies have a long way to go before they adequately address victims´ needs.  

Problems with Germany's Protection and Assistance Policies for Victims of Trafficking

The problems with the German victim protection and assistance policies begins with the police, who are normally the first authorities to come into contact with victims.  If police raid a brothel with trafficked women and fail to recognize the signs of trafficking, the victims have no way of tapping into the victim benefits system.  Instead of giving the victims the state-mandated four-week stay of deportation and giving the women over to NGO shelters that specialize in aiding trafficked women, police often deport victims immediately, like regular illegal immigrants.  In some Bundesländer, like Berlin and Northrhine Westphalia, NGOs say that police do a good job recognizing trafficked women during brothel raids.  Still, critics allege that women often slip through the cracks.  According to Malin Schmidt-Hijazi, who works at the Berlin Senate for Economy, Work, and Women, the Schutzpolizei, or regular police, who often assist the State Criminal Police during raids on traffickers, often lack the necessary training to identify trafficked women. A large gap in awareness also exists between the police forces of the different Bundesländer. According to Marlis Obmann, who works at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Bonn, if a woman is found in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which has no infrastructure to assist victims and a less well-trained police force, victims are likely to be deported right away.  Liuba Revenko, who works at the IOM in Moldova, suspects that many Moldovian trafficked women are being deported directly from Germany due to a mixture of maliciousness and ignorance on the part of the police.  Revenko says that among the 1,100 trafficked Moldovian women her organization has helped reintegrate into Moldova society, not a single one has come from Germany.  For Revenko, this is a terrible statistic.  „In Moldova there is a strong infrastructure to help victims of trafficking.  But if the women are sent back to Moldova without the help of NGOs from Germany, the women have no way of benefiting from that infrastructure....  It is a vicious cycle.  If you are deported, there is a high risk of retrafficking.  The women often get picked up at the airport (after being deported).“  Police incompetence not only hurts the trafficked women, but also hinders the state´s ability to fight organized crime by reducing the number of potential witnesses. 

When the police correctly identify women as victims of trafficking, the women do gain access to some basic benefits, but these benefits are often inadequate.  At a minimum, the victim receives a four-week stay of deportation, during which she can decide whether or not to testify against her trafficker or to prepare to go home.  If a woman decides not to testify, she is deported.  If she does decide to testify, she is allowed to stay in Germany for the duration of the trial, which may last from one and a half to three years.  Given how much time victims are forced to stay in German to assist the judicial system, the quality of their life during this waiting period is very important.  Yet the victims only qualify to receive the same benefits as asylum seekers, which amount to only 80% of the minimum that the government has set for „regular“ residents.  Gerschewski, who works at ONA, a shelter for trafficked women from Middle and Eastern Europe, finds this second-class treatment appalling.  „Germans get 276 euros for social welfare and these women get 198 euros, even though they both have the same stomachs.  How does that work?“ Since it is hard to finance an apartment on asylum seeker benefits, witnesses must often stay for months in shelters, which do not always represent a viable long-term housing solution.  On the other hand, not every witness who needs to stay in a shelter can.  According to Gerschewski, many women need long-term supervision and care in shelters to rehabilitate, especially those who have developed alcohol dependency during their time in slavery, but due to underfunding places in shelters are limited.  Many of the women also lack necessary health and psychological care, such as long-term treatment for trauma and alcohol dependency. 

Security is another top priority for trafficked women, many of whom live in fear of retaliation from their attackers for identifying them to authorities.  If a witness can prove she runs a great risk of retaliation, she may qualify for the police witness protection program, but very few victims actually meet the program´s stringent criteria. Even if it were more readily available, witness protection would not be a viable solution for the vast majority of women, explains Björn Clarberg, formerly a trafficking specialist at Europol.  Clarberg would personally advise the German government to invest in the victims´ lives rather than in police protection.  „I think it is more proper to help victims educate and rehabilitate themselves so that they can build a new life outside of the sex industry.  From a strategic point of view, it is better to do this.“  The danger of retaliation in Germany, however, does not compare to the danger victims face when they get back to their home countries, according to Revenko. As soon as women are sent back to Moldova, she says, victims become vulnerable to retaliation or kidnapping from traffickers.  „In Moldova,„ says Revenko, „witness protection does not exist....  the police (here) are very corrupt....  In order to be truly safe the women have to have residence permits,“ Revenko maintains.  The same goes for the families of trafficked women in foreign countries, victims´ advocates argue.  Yet Germany normally does not allow women to bring their children to Germany and out of harm´s way.  Sometimes, victims need protection not only from their traffickers, but also their governments, who may prosecute or blacklist them for illegal immigration or prostitution when they arrive home.  

The question of residency permits is one of the most hotly debated issues in victim protection.  As the situation now stands, Germany provides a handful of post-trial residency permits to witnesses who can prove they would be in grave danger if they returned to their home countries.  Clarberg worries, however, that extending longer-term residency only to victims who testify could be used by the defense to undermine the witnesses´ credibility.  Residency, Clarberg argues, „should be linked to the fact of victim assistance.“  Heike Müller, who works at the Sexual Health Counseling Center in Charlottenburg that specializes in treating victims of trafficking, agrees that residency possibilities should not be exclusively for those who testify in trials.  Many women, Müller says, wait a significant amount of time in Germany as potential witnesses, only to be told that their traffickers cannot be found and that they will be deported, since they are no longer „needed.“  These women often have lost all contact with their home countries and have begun to put down roots in Germany.  According to Müller, these women also deserve a chance to extend their residency in Germany.  Opponents to residency permits worry that such a policy would invite a flood of fraudulent claims.  „Think about it,“ says Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels, an expert on migration and trafficking who worked for the IOM in Geneva, „A woman comes here and she knows there is this great assistance program (for victims), so she says, ´Oh yes, they deceived me.´„  NGOs doubt that many women would make such false claims, given the strong stigmatization of prostitution and the fact that the applicants would have to produce strong evidence of trafficking. Some victims´ advocates also doubt that many trafficked women come to Germany with the hope of permanent migration.  Before they get here, Gerschewski says, these women believe they will work short-term jobs to earn money for their families and quickly return.  She points out that many women only pack clothes for one season, thinking they will be home after a couple of months.

Whatever their future residency prospects, witnesses still need to worry about building a life during the two to three years they must wait in Germany for police investigations and judicial proceedings.  Currently, Germany denies witnesses a regular work permit and makes it very difficult to get a special dispensation to work.  Germany also bars the women from participating in job-training or higher education.  Thus witnesses often find themselves waiting for years in forced idleness.  Schmidt-Hijazi, along with other victims´ advocates, argues that women must have employment in order to regain a sense of autonomy and self-esteem, and to move past their traumatic experiences.  Gerschewski points out that training women during their waiting period would help women find a stable life in their home countries and keep them from being retrafficked into Germany.  Clarberg also stresses the need for education and rehabilitation to help the women exit the world of sex slavery.

Willing or not, the vast majority of women who are trafficked eventually face deportation.  During this difficult transition, the actions of the German authorities greatly influence whether the victim successfully reintegrates or falls back into the hands of traffickers.  In order to combat trafficking, Clarberg argues, Germany must ensure that the women get assistance in their home countries.  „If there is not a good receiving system on the other end,“ says Clarberg, „the women´s prospects are very bad.“  Many women are deported only to be picked up once again by traffickers and smuggled into Western European countries under new names.  According to Patricia S∅rensen, a European parliamentarian from Belgium who specializes in trafficking in women, 44% percent of trafficking victims deported to Albania without NGOs to welcome them are picked up again by traffickers.  S∅rensen argues that it is crucial that victims participate in the so-called „voluntary repatriation program,“ sponsored by the International Organization for Migration, which gives the women a free ticket home, a little pocket money and puts them in contact with NGOs in their home countries.  Yet as Revenko points out, these programs cannot work unless the police recognize the signs of trafficking and alert the NGOs of the women´s situation.  According to Marlis Obmann, in many of the Bundesländer the system of cooperation between NGOs and police does not work, and very few women are able to take advantage of the repatriation program—just 140 victims from outside Northrhine Westphalia have taken part in the program in the past four years. 

A Better Way: Models for German Victim Protection and Assistance Policy

Many other EU members have proved it is possible to develop stronger policies around victim protection.  Italy has set a particularly good example, issuing 2,500 temporary residency and work permits to trafficked victims in 2002, and granting access to legal and medical aid, work, education, and witness protection through a well-developed infrastructure of NGOs. Revenko commends Italy for its progress.  „Italy is the best.  Women are really given options, independent of whether or not they testify.  They are given time to regain their health.„  In Belgium, trafficking victims who testify may get temporary work and residence permits, and after their trials victims may be granted permanent residency and unrestricted work permits.  France automatically extends permanent residency to victims of trafficking upon the conviction of their traffickers.  Sweden has legally guaranteed the rights of trafficking victims to shelter, legal, emotional and psychological support during their trials.  The British police have issued standard operating procedures to prevent the intimidation and harassment of witnesses.  Britain has also provided sensitivity training for civil servants to help them comprehend the difference between trafficking victims and illegal migrants.  In Norway, the government is looking at ways to improve current protection assistance, and is even considering granting refugee status to trafficking victims. These countries, who face budget constraints similar to Germany, prove that more can be done and provide models on which Germany can build new programs. But Germans do not only have to look abroad in order to find models for improvement.  Within Germany, von Koppenfels points out, it is important that Bundesländer with less well-developed programs rise to the standards set by relatively advanced Bundesländer like Northrhine Westphalia.   

Why Germany Should Change its Policy

Germany´s victim protection policies have serious consequences far beyond the lives of the individual women.  The second-class treatment of victims often hinders prosecution of traffickers, whose crime rings threaten the well-being of the whole society.  According to Schmidt-Hijazi, many potential witnesses decide not to testify once the staff at the NGOs inform them what sacrifices testifying entails.  By barring women from work and education and providing minimal repatriation assistance, Germany may also indirectly support trafficking by sending home many women who make ripe targets for retrafficking.  Investing money in victims rehabilitation and education so they do not get retrafficked could offset future costs for investigation and prosecution. Trafficking also poses a great security risk to Germany, since traffickers often funnel money made in trafficking into drug and arms smuggling, arms that could fall into terrorist hands.  According to European Parliamentarian S∅rensen, there have already been cases where traffickers have used the money they earn from trafficking to supply weapons for terrorist organizations in countries like Albania, Iran and Turkey.  Sometimes, says S∅rensen, traffickers force the women to participate themselves in terrorist acts.  

For victims´ advocates like Müller and Gerschewski, however, the best argument for improving the protection and opportunities for trafficking victims is the women themselves. „For me,“ says Gerschewski, „the women are not just witnesses, they are above all broken people.“   NGOs argue that Germany is criminalizing the victims of trafficking, and denying them their human rights, such as the right to safety, education, work, and to move freely.  „The women feel like objects that the government uses and then throws away,“ says Müller.  A few days ago, Müller got a phone call from Nadia (not her real name), a young Lithuanian woman who escaped from trafficking.  Up until today, Nadia has had one of the rare success stories.  While the police conducted investigations to find her traffickers, Nadia, eager to learn and integrate herself into German society, enrolled in the ninth grade and has made many German friends.  Nadia called Müller to ask for help extending her residency permit so that she could enroll in the tenth grade.  Unfortunately, when Müller spoke with the police, the response was negative, since they have not found Nadia´s traffickers and no longer need her as a witness.  Müller is pessimistic about Nadia´s chances to stay in Germany.  „They don´t need her anymore,“ Müller says. „She has integrated herself.  She has broken off contact with her country completely.  And she is traumatized....  How can I tell her, that she can´t get another residency extension?  She would kill herself, I´m sure of it.  She has built her life here.“ The case is still open.




Clarberg, Björn.  Formerly of Europol, Serious Crime Department, Crimes Against Persons.  Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Gerschewski.  ONA Shelter for Women from Middle and East Europe.  Berlin, Germany.

Klewkowski von Koppenfels, Amanda.  Expert on migration and trafficking, formerly at the International Organization for Migration Geneva.  Brussels, Belgium.

Müller, Heike.  Gesundheitszentrum Charlottenburg (Charlottenburg Sexual Health Center).  Berlin, Germany.

Obmann, Marlis.  International Organization for Migration Germany.  Bonn, Germany.

Revenko, Liuba.  International Organization for Migration in Moldova.  Chisinau, Moldova.

Schmidt-Hijazi, Malin.  Senat für Wirtschaft, Arbeit und Frauen, Referat VC Gleichstellungpolitik, Migrantinnen, Ausländerinnen, Frauenhandel, Projectförderung (Senate for Economy, Work, and Women, Department for Equal Rights, Migrant Women, Foreign Women, Trafficking in Women, and Project Funding).  Berlin, Germany.

S∅rensen, Patricia.  European Parliamentarian specialized in the trafficking of women.  Brussels, Belgium.


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