Today, the Pennsylvania Senate approved State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf’s (R, Montgomery/Bucks) SB 554 “Safe Harbor” legislation that would require that sexually exploited children be diverted from the criminal justice system to more appropriate human services.
SB 554 follows Greenleaf’s Act 105 of 2014 (S.B. 75) that rewrote the Commonwealth’s human trafficking statute to better enable prosecutors to charge human traffickers and increased penalties for human trafficking.
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, “These children are victims, not criminals. There is no such thing as a child prostitute. The criminal justice system and legislature have failed to recognize the sexual exploitation that is right in front of us. Our justice system arrests, prosecutes, and punishes minors who are the victims of sexually violent predators. The legislature needs to act quickly to pass Safe Harbor so we can confront this crisis and offer our children the protection and help that they so desperately need.”
The legislation will 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.
SB 554 will now be referred to the House of Representatives.