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Politics & Government

Advocates Applaud Stronger Human Trafficking Penalties

Two weeks into the implementation of Pennsylvania's new law to crack down on human trafficking, supporters took a victory lap in the state Capitol rotunda.

The law clarifies what constitutes labor and sex trafficking, sets harsher penalties, and allows law enforcement to differentiate offenders from victims.

"I wanted to say thank you for passing the law," said Anne Marie Jones, who says she works with Dawn's Place, the same organization that was a safe haven for her after she was arrested for prostitution. "At one time, I never believed that I was a victim."

Polaris, a national advocacy group pushing for harsher trafficking penalties, says Pennsylvania is one of the last states to strengthen its laws.

The new statute also expands law enforcement's ability to seize assets of people charged with human trafficking, whether or not they are convicted of the crime.

Shea Rhodes, a former prosecutor, defends the practice.

"They can go after the traffickers' assets and forfeit all proceeds that they have reaped and things that they've purchased, even their bank accounts overseas," Rhodes said.

Other supporters of the law have said civil asset forfeiture is a tool to help pay for expensive human trafficking investigations. But civil liberties advocates have questioned the expansion of the practice, already permitted in drug and terrorism cases.

State law requires no oversight over the assets seized from people charged with human trafficking, while assets taken from people arrested on drug- or terrorism-related charges are audited.