An op-ed by Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill, Representative Seth Grove and York County District Attorney Dave Sunday
Human trafficking is society’s hidden dark secret that happens, sometimes in plain sight. This heinous crime happens in every part of Pennsylvania. Yet, sometimes we don’t realize that people we encounter are victims of modern-day slavery.
To aid law enforcement in its fight to end this barbaric practice, the Buyer Beware Act, which will be introduced as House Bill 12 in the House and Senate Bill 60 in the Senate, was unveiled during a recent press conference in Harrisburg.
The Buyer Beware Act will ensure those who are convicted of crimes related to human trafficking will feel the full force of our court 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.
Under the legislation, the maximum jail sentence and fines for an individual convicted of trafficking or patronizing a victim of trafficking would increase exponentially. In light of the connection between prostitution and human trafficking, the legislation would also increase fines for repeat offenders of those patronizing prostitutes. The money from this fine would go to fund grants given to anti-trafficking programs and the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund. The bill would also expand the definition of human trafficking in the state Crimes Code to match federal law.
The recently unveiled legislation aims to cut off the fuel – those who pay for sex from a victim of human trafficking – that feeds the fire. If the demand for victims is greatly diminished, the modern-day slave trade will suffer greatly.
Human trafficking is slavery and it occurs in every state. 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. The average age a child is forced into sex slavery is 12 years old. More than 300 human trafficking cases were reported last year in Pennsylvania and Maryland combined.
Human trafficking is a global epidemic, and it is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. This evil extends into cities, small towns and neighborhoods where the crime is hidden in the shadows, with innocent victims either too frightened, ashamed or guilt-ridden to seek help. Human trafficking is horrific and happens right here in York County.
It is difficult to imagine knowing someone who views another human being as a commodity. Yet human traffickers may be neighbors, friends, acquaintances, family members, owners of small or medium-size businesses, or respected members of the community.
Combatting this evil crime requires a strong response from every level of government. The United States Department of State has a list of tips available to help prevent human trafficking at www.state.gov. The most important thing to remember is to dial 911 or the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 if you believe someone may be a victim of human trafficking. Victims, including undocumented individuals, are eligible for services and immigration assistance.
It is our moral responsibility to prevent this evil from taking place, and to protect the victims of this insidious crime. Raising awareness is the first step that each one of us can take. Please join us in being vigilant for possible human trafficking and report suspected cases to the authorities.