“I would like to thank the supporters, allies and my fellow lawmakers who have joined me today to stand up against human trafficking, a heinous crime that is plaguing America,” Leach said. “Hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of falling victim to this crime each year, and it is time that we increase punishments for their perpetrators, while offering protections under the law to victims and providing them with access to the resources and treatment they need.”
At the press conference, Leach unveiled Senate Bill 915, which would provide a safe harbor to children exposed to sexual exploitation in Pennsylvania. The legislation would presume that any minor involved in prostitution is a victim of human trafficking and would be treated as such. It would provide a range of specialized services to those victims and would impose monetary penalties on traffickers and those who patronize commercial sex workers. The money collected from the fines would be used to establish a special fund for sexually exploited children, providing for safe houses and victim services around the state.
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Additionally, Leach discussed Senate Bill 75, a bill he cosponsored that would provide services to human trafficking victims who are too often treated as criminals. The bill would help enable law enforcement officials to end human trafficking in Pennsylvania by allowing them to punish perpetrators with more proportional criminal charges. The bill was developed based on recommendations from the Joint State Government Commission’s Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking.
Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Bucks/Montgomery), prime sponsor of S.B. 75, said, “Human trafficking is a crime that has been around for centuries, but this is going to be the last century. This legislation is so important, but until we change public opinion and the criminal justice system, nothing will change. We need to stop treating victims as offenders when they are, in fact, victims of child abuse. We are standing up now and saying ‘no more.’ This is going to stop.”
Today’s press conference coincided with a lobby day held by advocates including Women’s Way, Dawn’s Place, Covenant House PA, Salvation Army, Polaris Project, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), and county anti-trafficking coalitions. Other speakers included James Dold, Senior Policy Council for Polaris Project; Hugh Organ, Associate Executive Director of Covenant House PA; and Sister Teresita, co-founder of Dawn’s Place.
Leach noted that S.B. 75 awaits consideration by the Appropriations Committee and S.B. 915 is circulating for cosponsorship.