HARRISBURG – Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) and Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) were joined by advocates for a press conference in the Capitol on Wednesday to unveil the Buyer Beware Act, joint pieces of legislation in the House and Senate to increase penalties on criminals convicted of certain human trafficking offenses.
“Human trafficking is estimated to be an $100 billion global industry. It happens in all corners of Pennsylvania and impacts people from all walks of life. No one is immune from this heinous crime,” Grove said. “The Buyer Beware Act will ensure those who are convicted of crimes related to human trafficking will feel the full force of our justice system while providing justice to helpless victims. We must get tougher on these villainous criminals who rob victims of their God-given right of freedom.”
Grove’s legislation will be introduced as House Bill 12 and Phillips-Hill’s bill will be introduced as Senate Bill 60.
“Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received more than 3,700 human trafficking-related calls from Pennsylvania. Case files were created on more than 900 of them, and more than 800 of those were considered high levels of human trafficking,” Phillips-Hill said. “The tentacles of this savage crime extend into small towns and neighborhoods where it is hidden in the shadows, and victims are either too frightened to seek help or are trapped within malicious cultural norms. It is our responsibility, morally and constitutionally, to protect the victims of this insidious crime.”
The legislation would double the maximum jail sentence for an individual convicted of trafficking or patronizing a victim of trafficking. Currently, these crimes carry a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison. The bill would upgrade these to first-degree felonies, which carry a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison. In addition, those convicted of patronizing a victim of sexual trafficking would receive an increased fine of between $1,000 and $30,000, up from $500, at the discretion of the court. If the victim is a minor at the time of the offense, the fine would be increased to a minimum of $5,000 and a maximum of $100,000.
“The reduction of people to objects contributes to the acceptance of abuse and sexual assault within our society. Those who have been victims of these crimes deserve a justice system that recognizes the severity of what they have endured and works to rehabilitate them as individuals, as well as our society as a whole,” remarked Commonwealth Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm.
In light of the connection between prostitution and human trafficking, the legislation would also increase fines for repeat offenders of those patronizing prostitutes. A second-time offender would face an additional fine of between $1,000, and $20,000; a third-time offender would see an additional fine of between $5,000 and $30,000; and a fourth-time offender would receive an additional fine of between $10,000 and $50,000. The money from this fine would go to fund grants given to anti-trafficking programs and the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund.
“Human trafficking is a horrendous crime, and we need every tool at our disposal to prosecute offenders and protect victims. My office is focused on taking down traffickers, including shutting down a ring that operated in central and eastern Pennsylvania and charging a Philadelphia man who trafficked underage girls on Craigslist,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “Representative Grove’s legislation recognizes the uptick in human trafficking in our Commonwealth, increases penalties, and will help law enforcement do its job.”
The bill would also expand the definition of human trafficking in the state Crimes Code to match federal law. The expanded definition would include any individual who patronizes or advertises a victim of trafficking. Additionally, the legislation mirrors federal law by expanding the offense for patronizing a victim of trafficking to include any person who should have known or acted with reckless disregard to the fact the individual was a victim of human trafficking.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of human trafficking, you are not alone. Help is available through the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, text 233733, or live chat at https://humantraffckinghotline.org.
Would you recognize the signs of human trafficking? Community and school presentations, as well as education sessions for professionals, are available free of charge through the PAATH project at 1-800-654-1211.