On Wednesday, October 17, 2018, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 554, known as Safe Harbor, sponsored by State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf (R, 12) to prevent the child victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation from being criminally prosecuted for crimes they have been forced or coerced to commit. The Senate concurred late Tuesday on technical amendments made to SB 554 in the House, sending the bill to the Governor to be signed into law.
Since the bill’s introduction in January 2017, legislators, advocates, and citizens have rallied to generate momentum behind the legislation aimed at protecting young victims.
Greenleaf, known for numerous legislative efforts to prevent unjust punishments and protect victims, said, “We must stop treating the victims as criminals and the criminals as victims. These are the victims of sexual assault and abuse. They’re abused physically and mentally with threats, violence, and drugs at a very young age, and during times of vulnerability such as homelessness or addiction. They often do not even recognize themselves as victims.”
SB 554 will provide full immunity from prosecution for certain crimes for any minor who has been the subject of sexual exploitation or human trafficking. The legislation will require law enforcement to report any encounter with a minor who has been subject to sexual exploitation to the Department of Human Services. The Department will develop a state-wide protocol to provide victims with safe, long-term housing, education, life-skills training, and counseling.
“Thousands of children are coerced into sexual servitude each year and charged with crimes such as prostitution and drug trafficking,” said Senator Greenleaf. “The Safe Harbor bill will divert exploited children from the criminal justice system and recognize them as human trafficking victims. There is no such thing as a child prostitute—they are children, not legally capable of such consent. They deserve our protection, not a criminal record and unjust punishment while the real criminals go free.”
Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise, second only to the drug trade. Between 100,000 and 300,000 children are commercially exploited in the United States each year. Over 273 human trafficking cases have been reported in Pennsylvania since 2016.
Nationally, as many as 2.4 million children run away from home each year, with 1 out of every 3 homeless teens being lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. Statistically, this means at least 800,000 runaway children will be lured into commercial sexual exploitation each year. The average age at which a child first becomes commercially victimized is twelve years old.
“I thank my colleagues in the Senate and the House for acting on behalf of child victims and letting their story be told,” said Senator Greenleaf. SB 554 paves the way for recovery for many young women and men who have been subject the horrors of human trafficking.
Contact: Aaron Zappia (215) 657-7700