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New Legislation Redefines Human Trafficking

Special series: This week we're exploring legislative action taken recently in Harrisburg on important bills that were overshadowed by the passage of the state budget.

Human trafficking is a growing criminal industry that generates billions of dollars from the exploitation of vulnerable people for labor and sex, according to the U.S. Department of State. Currently, Pennsylvania ranks in the bottom half of the country when it comes to creating a legal framework that effectively combats this crime, according to anti-trafficking organization The Polaris Project. However, that is soon to change.

Governor Corbett has signed Senate Bill 75, a measure to update Pennsylvania’s legal system to include a more detailed definition of human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking, which will allow prosecutors and police to target those who coerce adults and minors into trading sex.

Prime Sponsor Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R- Bucks/Montgomery) says this legislation will provide a much-needed update to Pennsylvania’s laws regarding prostitution and the sex trade, which effect communities throughout the state.

“This is a crime that’s been going on for centuries, so Pennsylvania’s no different, except Pennsylvania has no definition of what human trafficking is, at least particularly sex trafficking,” Greenleaf said.

Currently, PA’s laws target sex workers for prostitution crimes, and do not take into account whether or not an individual has been forced into the sex industry. According to Greenleaf, victims of trafficking are beaten, tricked, or psychologically abused by their captors until they agree to exchange sex for money. Often, they owe large debts or were smuggled in from another country.

Greenleaf says old-fashioned views of prostitution need to change for the issue to be effectively addressed.

“Most people would say, ‘Well, they chose that lifestyle.’ They didn’t. They were kidnapped and they were drugged into this lifestyle,” Greenleaf said. “This is a form of slavery. It’s modern day slavery, and we’ve been punishing the victim.”

Greenleaf anticipates that prosecutors and other law enforcement personnel will rapidly adapt to this new definition and begin applying the changes immediately. The act will be effective 60 days after it was signed.