State legislators touted Pennsylvania’s improvements in anti-human trafficking laws, as Monday marked the 9th annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
January is also National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
More than 17,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year, according the U.S. State Department. And it’s a problem in every state, including Pennsylvania.
“Human trafficking is the second most pervasive crime in the world, after drug trafficking,” Pennsylvania Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) said. “Particularly in this part of Pennsylvania, because we’re a crossroads for so much of the population centers of the east. It’s a massive problem.”
Human trafficking can take multiple forms, including labor trafficking, in which victims are forced to work for little or no pay, and sex trafficking.
In the past five years, Pennsylvania has gone from one of the least progressive to most progressive states, when it comes to laws targeting traffickers, according to Leach. He referenced certain laws that have taken effect in recent years.
“Including notification requirements at certain restaurants, bars, truck stops, massage parlors, whatever it is, to let people know that if they are the victim of human trafficking or are aware of a victim of human trafficking, here is a number where you can get help,” he said.
Another law increases penalties for traffickers, in addition to providing resources for law enforcement and victims. Leach is now pushing for passage of the so-called Safe Harbor Bill (SB 851).
“Essentially, what is says is, if you are arrested for prostitution or solicitation, you cannot be prosecuted if you are under 18. All the studies show that if you’re under 18, this is not something you’re doing voluntarily,” said Leach.
The Safe Harbor Bill is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, sex trafficking is the most common form of human trafficking reported in Pennsylvania.