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Pennsylvania’s legislature is working to combat a widespread, hidden human trafficking problem in the state while recognizing National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin) held a voting meeting of the House Judiciary Committee today to move a package of bills aimed at combatting that crime through the legislature.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. The International Labour Organization estimates human trafficking is a $150 billion industry, of which $99 billion belongs to sexual exploitation.

“Human trafficking is a very real and serious problem across our country and here in the Commonwealth,” said Kauffman.

He said laws are already on the books to address the trafficking crime. The new legislation helps victims and arms law enforcement with tools to catch, convict and hold traffickers accountable.

“I am proud to have been able to support the passage of this package of bills out of my committee,” he said.

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Pennsylvania is currently ranked 10th in the nation in the list of top human trafficking states, Kauffman said.

The National Hotline 2018 Pennsylvania State Report identified 621 human trafficking victims, 215 traffickers and 101 trafficking businesses in the state that year.

Types of Calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2016
Types of Calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2016

“The threat is real, and we need to be proactive and decisive in combatting this heinous crime that preys on vulnerable citizens, particularly minors,” said Kauffman.

Bills in the package are as follows:

  • House Bill 161 – ReclassifI es the offense of trafficking infants as a first-degree felony.
  • House Bill 2174 – Prohibits defendants from introducing evidence of a human trafficking victim’s past sexual victimization and allegations of past sexual victimization in any prosecution related to human trafficking.
  • House Bill 2175 – Expands the list of offenses where an expert may testify about the dynamics of sexual violence and victim responses to sexual violence.
  • House Bill 2176 – Adds certain prohibited activities to existing law that, if committed, constitute the crime of unlawful contact with a minor.
  • House Bill 2177 – Expands the list of sexual offenses that require offenders to attend and participate in a Department of Corrections program of counseling and therapy designed for incarcerated sex offenders. 
  • House Bill 2178 – Amends Pennsylvania’s child custody statute to require a court to consider whether a party or member of that party’s household has been convicted of human trafficking prior to awarding child custody to that party. 
  • Senate Bill 60 – Provides increased penalties regarding human trafficking and patronizing a victim of sexual servitude.
  • House Resolution 618 – Recognizes the month of January 2020 as “National Human Trafficking Awareness Month” in Pennsylvania.

“These bills will hold those driving this industry more accountable and help victims get the justice they deserve,” said Kauffman. “Sadly, this is often a hidden crime because victims are reluctant to seek help due to language barriers, fear of their traffickers and/or fear of law enforcement. We need to shine a greater light into this insidious crime and help those who are being targeted.”

The package of bills unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee and now goes to the full House for a vote.

To report suspected human trafficking to federal law enforcement, call 1-866-347-2423. To receive help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, call 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to 233733.

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