Dressed in black and carrying umbrellas, women marched single-file through the streets of Germany on Saturday as part of an international Walk for Freedom demonstration organized by the A21 Campaign, which works to raise awareness of human trafficking, protect survivors and provide legal council.
Demonstrations took place at 200 different locations across 26 countries worldwide, including Germany, where protesters in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Cologne, Konstanz and Stuttgart took part in the events.
In Berlin, participants walking from the Holocaust Memorial to the German parliament building told The Local that they hoped the march would help bring attention to human trafficking within the country.
“So many people have been interested in what we're doing,” participant Carolina Strauch told The Local.
“It's just great that we really are raising awareness through this.”
'Happening in our backyard'
Prostitution has been legal in Germany for more than a decade, but that hasn't caused illegal forced prostitution to disappear, with the US State Department calling Germany a “source, transit, and destination country for women, children, and men subjected to sex and labor trafficking”.
The state department's most recent Trafficking in Persons report stated that while Germany fully meets minimum international standards for combating trafficking, the country often fails to adequately hold traffickers accountable due to weak sentences and labour statutes.
“People don't realize it, but human trafficking actually happens in our backyard,” said Linda Guddat of Berlin social enterprise Futureminded, which helped organize Saturday's demonstration.
“Germany is a tipping country,” she told The Local.
In 2013, German authorities carried out 425 investigations into sex trafficking, the trafficking report states, and 118 of those led to a prosecution. Another 77 sex traffickers were later convicted by courts.
Seventeen received prison sentences, which ranged from two to ten years.
Meanwhile, none of the 14 labour traffickers convicted in 2013 were imprisoned.
— Futureminded Group (@future_minded) October 17, 2015
Guddat said that Saturday's event seemed to spark an interest and curiosity about the issue as passersby asked participants about what they were doing and why they walked in silence.
“It really had the effect that we were hoping for,” Guddat said.
“They represented the voiceless,” Guddat explained, “and those who are trapped in human trafficking.
“It's a very strong statement to walk in her shoes.”
By Hannah Butler