Legislators to vote on bill package combatting human trafficking
HARRISBURG – Continuing efforts to combat human trafficking in Pennsylvania, the House will be voting on a package of bills designed to guarantee the well-being of victims, protect their privacy and make it safer for them to testify against their abusers.
Legislation in the package would increase penalties for anyone knowingly patronizing a victim and anyone connected to trafficking victims. Other bills would assist victims and aim to increase resources and protections.
“Human trafficking is a horrendous crime, and we need to raise public awareness as well as arm prosecutors and law enforcement with every tool possible to take down traffickers and protect victims,” said House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster). “We must expand the criminal offense for patronizing a victim of trafficking and ensure that all human trafficking, regardless of the age of the victim, is a first-degree felony.”
Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or purchase of persons for the sole purpose of exploitation. Since 2007, more than 1,200 human trafficking cases have been reported in the Commonwealth. In addition, Pennsylvania is ranked 10th on Insider Monkey’s list of top human trafficking states. The International Labour Organization estimates human trafficking is a $150 billion industry, of which $99 billion is generated by sexual exploitation.
Traffickers often prey upon children in the foster care system. Recent reports have indicated that a large number of U.S. victims of child sex trafficking were at one time in the foster care system. These crimes often remain hidden because victims are reluctant to seek help for a variety of reasons, including language barriers, fear of traffickers and law enforcement, and a lack of trust.
“We applaud the leadership in the House for continuing their care and concern for victims in the Commonwealth, particularly those subjected to the most heinous of crimes, that of human trafficking,” said Jennifer Storm, the state’s victim advocate. “We stand with them to put an end to this form of modern-day slavery.”
“Ultimately, we need to focus on a victim-centered approach, including helping to better hold perpetrators accountable, assisting others in recognizing trafficking victims, treating the victims with the dignity they deserve, using the right vocabulary when we talk about human trafficking, and providing the resources and support to help the victims heal,” said Dave Sunday, York County district attorney.
“The YWCA has leveraged its expertise in victim services to address the needs of human trafficking victims, said Mary Quinn, president and chief executive officer of YWCA of Greater Harrisburg. “Since starting this work in 2014, we have served almost 300 victims through comprehensive and trauma informed care best practices across a 12-county corridor along Route 15. The trauma a trafficking victims faces is complex and requires a holistic approach. It is our hope that through building awareness and taking action on these bills we will be able to bring more resources and expertise to the table.”
The package of human trafficking bills includes the following:
• Senate Bill 60
, sponsored by Sen. Kristen Phillips-Hill (R-York), would provide for increased penalties regarding human trafficking and patronizing a victim of sexual servitude. Among other things the grading of the offense would increase to a first-degree felony.
• House Bill 161
, sponsored by Rep. Barry Jozwiak (R-Berks), would reclassify the trafficking of infants to a first-degree felony.
• House Bill 2174
, sponsored by Rep. Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny/Washington), would prohibit defendants from using a human trafficking victim’s past sexual victimization and allegations of past sexual victimization as “evidence” in any prosecution related human trafficking.
• House Bill 2175
, sponsored by Rep. Meghan Schroeder (R-Bucks), would expand the list of offenses where an expert may testify about the dynamics of sexual violence and victim responses to sexual violence.
• House Bill 2176
, sponsored by Rep. Marci Mustello (R-Butler), would strengthen current law by adding certain prohibited activities that, if committed, constitute the crime of unlawful contact with a minor.
• House Bill 2177
, sponsored by Rep. Valerie Gaydos (R-Allegheny), would expand the list of sexual offenses requiring offenders to attend and participate in a Department of Corrections program of counseling and therapy designed for incarcerated sex offenders.
• House Bill 2178
, sponsored by Rep. David Rowe (R-Union/Snyder), would require the courts to consider whether a party or member of that party’s household has been convicted of human trafficking prior to awarding child custody to that party.
• House Resolution 618
, sponsored by Wendi Thomas (R-Bucks), would recognize the month of January 2020 as “National Human Trafficking Awareness Month.”
“Human trafficking is a crisis in our state, and we must put a stop to it,” said Cutler. “This package of legislation addresses many issues. We must see the urgent need to step up efforts to combat trafficking as part of the wider battle for human rights. We need to create a culture where people no longer stay silent about the abuse they are suffering and where the legal systems take such violence seriously.”
Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus
Media Contact: Mike Straub
Media Contact: Alison Evans
On Wednesday, Jan. 22, House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) highlighted the timeliness of a press conference about human trafficking hosted by House Republicans. With the Superbowl – the biggest human trafficking event of the year – less than two weeks away, the House prepares to move a package of bills designed to push human trafficking from the Commonwealth.