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Senate Passes Greenleaf Legislation to Fight Human Trafficking

December 12, 2013- Hanson Quickel
HARRISBURG- On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed legislation introduced by State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf (R, Montgomery, Bucks) to fight human trafficking in Pennsylvania. Human trafficking is the modern practice of slavery in which victims are forced into labor or sexual servitude under the threat of force or coercion.

Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world generating over $32 billion annually. It is estimated that over 20 million people are currently being trafficked world-wide. In the US, it is estimated that over 100,000 children are in the sex trade. The total number of men, women, and children being trafficked in US could reach into the hundreds of thousands.

In Pennsylvania, human trafficking is taking place in both urban and suburban communities, and victims are commonly transported along the state’s interstate highway system. Recent cases of trafficking in the state range from forced labor at a nail salon in York, to a spa in Camp Hill that served as a front for a brothel, and a Philadelphia cleaning service that used forced labor.

Senator Greenleaf said, “While we use the term ‘human trafficking,’ we are literally talking about slavery. Ironically, the Pennsylvania legislature was the first government in America to attempt to abolish slavery in 1780 with the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. Two-hundred and thirty-three years later we are still fighting human slavery, though in a very different form.”

Senator Greenleaf introduced SB 75 to address weaknesses in the state’s current law that often allows traffickers to be charged with lesser crimes. The outdated statutory definition of human trafficking does not include sexual servitude. SB 75 redefines trafficking to aid prosecutors and provides increased criminal penalties for those convicted of human trafficking.

Because the victims of trafficking are often misidentified and charged with crimes, SB 75 offers a provision that would allow someone charged with a sex crime to defend themselves in court with the argument that their crime was committed under the threat of force that they could not resist.

“It is an absolute crisis that victims of trafficking are being charged with crimes they committed while under threat of force, while traffickers get off on lesser charges,” said Greenleaf. “This has been a gross miscarriage of justice in this state, but we are about to correct it.”

The legislation further addresses victim protection and prevention of trafficking by providing restitution to victims funded by seized property and creating the PA Council for Prevention of Human Trafficking. The goal is to have all law enforcement and first responders able to identify victims of human trafficking.

Greenleaf said, “Only a few years ago, no one was talking about human trafficking. I want to thank everyone who has rallied behind this legislation and worked hard to raise awareness about this horrible crime that was perceived for so long to be a foreign problem.”

SB 75 will next be considered by the House of Representatives.

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