Today, State Senators Stewart J. Greenleaf (R, Montgomery/Bucks) and Daylin Leach (D, Montgomery/Delaware) held a news conference at the State Capitol announcing the introduction of “Safe Harbor” legislation (S.B. 851) designed to help law enforcement identify the child victims of human trafficking and avoid prosecuting children who have been forced to perform illegal activities.
The legislation follows Act 105 of 2014 (S.B. 75) that rewrote the Commonwealth’s human trafficking statute to better enable prosecutors to bring charges for human trafficking and increase penalties for traffickers.
Over 100,000 children are exploited through prostitution in the United States each year. Adults psychologically manipulate these children, often with the use of illegal drugs. As a consequence, children have been charged with prostitution, drug possession, loitering, and other offenses that are inherently related to prostitution.
Senator Greenleaf said, “For many years, we have treated the victims of trafficking as criminals and the criminals as victims. Children are often lured into sex trafficking and charged with serious crimes. It can be difficult to identify human trafficking victims because they either do not identify as victims, are mistrustful of law enforcement, or fear retribution from their trafficker. These children deserve the protection of the child welfare system, not re-victimization and incarceration in the juvenile justice system.”
S.B. 851 would require law enforcement to report to the Department of Human Services any encounter with a minor who has been subject to sexual exploitation. The Department will develop and implement a state-wide protocol to deliver safe long-term housing, education, life-skills training, and counseling to the children who have been exploited. The bill would require that police be trained to identify and assist sexually exploited children. Most importantly, the bill would require that sexually exploited children be diverted from the criminal justice system to more appropriate human services.
Senator Daylin Leach said, “There is no such thing as a child prostitute. There are only victims and survivors of child rape. S.B. 851 would establish a non-punitive response for juvenile sex-trafficking victims, and provide them with support to address their trauma and specialized services, which would be partially funded through enhanced penalties for traffickers, facilitators, and patrons of prostitution wherein the victim was a minor. Juveniles involved in sex-trafficking are already considered crime victims under international and federal law. Pennsylvania must advance anti-human trafficking reforms such as this legislation to protect these innocent children.”
Eliza Reock, Director of Programs for Shared Hope International, said, “Child sex trafficking victims and survivors need strong laws that ensure that they are not penalized for crimes committed against them. We must provide them with eligibility and access to specialized services. By passing S.B. 851, Pennsylvania will join states across the country recognizing that these youths deserve a comprehensive response, empowering victims towards the path of restoration.”
Contact: Aaron Zappia (215) 657-7700