By Andrea Timbone
Support for anti-trafficking legislation in Pennsylvania reached unprecedented levels this week, when on January 22 the House Majority Leader held a press conference highlighting the bills being voted on that day. Attendees to the event wore blue to represent Human Trafficking Awareness Month, a fitting way to demonstrate unity towards a common goal of ending the injustice of trafficking.
The bills whose fate was decided that day were:
Senate Bill 60 (Sen. Phillips-Hill), also known as the Buyer Beware Act. This act increases the penalties for traffickers and patrons of trafficking victims. This bill is designed to combat human trafficking by targeting the root of the problem–the demand. The people who buy sex and utilize force labor fuel the industry, creating an unending line of revenue for traffickers. Legislation is needed to redirect punishment from the trafficking survivors to those who buy and sell them.
House Bill 161 (Rep. Jozwiak). classifies the trafficking of infants to a first-degree felony.
House Bill 2174 (Rep Mihalek) extends protection to victims of human trafficking by prohibiting defendants from using the victim’s past sexual victimization as “evidence” in any prosecution related to human trafficking.
House Bill 2175 (Rep. Schroeder) extends the amount of cases where an expert can testify about the dynamics of sexual violence and victim responses to sexual violence.
House Bill 2176 (Rep. Mustello) adds prohibited acts to the charge of unlawful contact with a minor to strengthen existing law.
House Bill 2177 (Rep. Gaydos) expands the list of sexual offenses requiring offenders to participate in a Department of Corrections program of counseling and therapy designed for incarcerated sex offenders.
House Bill 2178 (Rep. Rowe) requires that, before giving someone child custody, the courts have to determine if that party or a member of the party’s household has been convicted of human trafficking.
And the voting results?
All of these bills passed through the next round of legislation! The house bills all had a unanimous vote of “yea” and will now move to the Senate. The Buyer Beware Act (SB 60), was passed nearly unanimously and is on its way to Governor Wolf’s desk as we speak!
This is an amazing victory in the fight against human trafficking as we see more and more positive movement in Pennsylvania. We can use this opportunity to gain momentum in educating our communities about human trafficking! If you are interested in joining this vision, spread the news about the bills that have passed, let a senator or representative know you appreciate their work, and even be on the lookout for any upcoming anti-trafficking legislation. Together, we can make the end of human trafficking a reality.