A Lancaster county judge recently sentenced a man to 55.5—141 years in prison for his role in a local trafficking ring, resembling a second perpetrator’s recent sentence.
In fall 2019, we highlighted the case: two years of preparation culminating in an eight day trial in which 12 survivors testified against their abusers. These men operated a human trafficking organization in Lancaster, Montgomery, Philadelphia, and York counties and southern New Jersey from 2014-17, promoting prostitution on sites such as Backpage and Eros.
According to the Attorney General, they “deliberately chose vulnerable victims—women and girls who were marginalized members of their communities—and sexually, physically, and emotionally abused them.” They manipulated and controlled victims through promises of money, protection, and drugs, and physically, sexually, and emotional abused the women.
One victim testified that after the trafficker got her addicted to heroin, he used debt from a bail payment to force her into trafficking. She was afraid to leave because he told her that “he would make one phone call and my family as well as me would disappear.”
Greenlight Operation staff played a small role in supporting the survivors who testified, and law enforcement officials, Lancaster-based North Star Initiative, and Hope Inspire Love deserve commendation for facilitating this moment of justice.
Eliminating a trafficking ring is truly a victory.
Yet, this is only the second trafficking trial in Lancaster county, underscoring the difficulty prosecuting this crime. Several reasons for this include:
Human trafficking cases are difficult to identify, with many individuals not knowing they were trafficking or reporting a different crime, such as assault or prostitution. This is coupled with lack of proper training for law enforcement and service providers, hampering identification of trafficking.
Prosecutors may not have the knowledge to successfully litigate a case and charge defendants under the new and seldom-used human trafficking statutes. Indeed, only one-fifth of trafficking cases utilize trafficking statutes, largely due to prosecutors’ concern the case will be overturned or that juries still doubt human trafficking exists.
Successful convictions nearly always require corroborating evidence or victim testimony, yet doing so necessitates these men and women confronting their abusers in person in court. After years of abuse, no conviction guarantee, and frequent lack of resources, victims often avoid the risk and further traumatization.
Yet, these hurdles can be overcome.
Since Pennsylvania’s human trafficking law (Act 105) went into effect in 2014, an increasing number of offenses and cases have been charged: 586 offenses and 159 cases.
Through community advocacy to raise awareness and self-identification of trafficking; through training for public officials to spot and properly investigate and prosecute cases; and through support for victims, this momentum can continue.
By connecting with a local nonprofit, booking a Greenlight Operation training, or attending an event (such as our upcoming Art Festival) to raise awareness and support survivors, you can help fight for justice against exploitation.