Suspicion of human trafficking in massage studios in southern Germany  

The operators of several massage studios in southern Germany are being accused of human trafficking and other offences. Chinese women who were supposed to stay in Germany illegally were being employed at their establishments.  

On 14 November 2023, several massage studios in southern Germany were searched. The grounds for the investigations included suspicion of human trafficking.  Almost 270  officials  from the Financial Control for Illegal Employment at the Main Customs Office of Singen, as well as special units and the Regional Police, carried out the raids on behalf of the Public Prosecutor‘s Office in Konstanz.  

The searches took place simultaneously in three federal regions at once – Hessen, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. Chinese women said to be living in Germany illegally were employed at the massage studios.  “The object of the investigations, moreover,  is whether the personal and economic predicaments of these women, and their helplessness, were being exploited so they could be brought into prostitution,” said the Press Office of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Konstanz.    

The operators of the massage establishments are also accused of commercial human trafficking, smuggling foreign nationals, falsifying documents, withholding payments, and serious tax evasion. Investigations are ongoing.   

A nationwide survey of human trafficking and exploitation carried out by Germany’s Federal Criminal Office in 2022 produced the following results:  

  • Sexual exploitaton: 476 victims, 488 suspects, 346 processes  
  • Labour exploitation: 1,019 victims, 76 suspects, 34 processes  
  • Exploitation of underage children: 270 victims, 221 suspects, 171 processes  

Most of the suspects came from Germany and Eastern Europe. The majority of the victims came from Europe, with almost one in four from Asia. Others affected came from Africa or South America, or were of unknown origin.  

Due to its central European location, Austria functions as both destination and transit country for traffickers. The Austrian Federal Criminal Office has released the following figures for 2022:  

  • Human trafficking: 104 victims, 49 suspects, 41 processes  
  • Cross-border trade in prostitution: 26 victims, 20 suspects, 15 processes  
  • Smuggling: 712 smugglers; persons smuggled: 73,096; persons smuggled into the country illegally: 35,105   

The majority of suspects came from Eastern Europe and Turkey, while most victims came from EU Member States.  

The investigation is primarily being brought against a group of Nigerian perpetrators who recruited young Nigerian women using false facts. The women were smuggled into Austria via the Mediterranean route, before being forced into prostitution in Carinthia and Styria by means of violence and threats. All their money was taken from them. Two of the perpetrators were arrested, and two of the harmed women were taken to victim protection institutions.    

Victims were recruited in a variety of ways, including social media (Facebook, TikTok, etc.), in print advertisements, as well as directly at small local bars, discos, and on the street. False promises are used to do this, as well as violence and force. The technique used most often, however, is the “lover boy method” – when perpetrators pretend to be in a relationship with socially isolated victims, eventually tricking the emotionally dependent victims into prostitution. Women affected from Nigeria are controlled using religious practices such as Voodoo or Juju. They believe the priest has power over them, and that a curse will be put on them or their family should they refuse to comply. At the same time, they fear serious diseases, infertility or death.  

Local victims are most likely to file criminal complaints for exploitative offences, as they are more informed about exactly what rights they have, have greater trust in the authorities, and are usually better integrated into society than foreign nationals who are affected. Victims from Eastern Europe usually come from impoverished circumstances, and there are no restrictions on their freedom to travel within Europe. The situation is different for Asian or Nigerian victims, who are brought into the country by human traffickers.  

The lockdowns and travel restrictions produced by the pandemic exacerbated critical situations that already existed, with one example that of sexual exploitation. In an effort to keep financial losses related to the pandemic as low as possible, the traffickers exerted even greater pressure on their victims. This shows once again just how closely linked economic plight and human trafficking really are.  

Human Trafficking Hotline: +43 677 61 34 34 34  
E-Mail: or  

Translated by Tim Lywood

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