HARRISBURG – The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved legislation today aimed at targeting individuals who solicit services from victims of human trafficking, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York).
The bill, known as the “Buyer Beware Act,” builds on recent changes to state law by increasing penalties against criminals who traffic and advertise victims of human trafficking, as well as the individuals who knowingly use services of the victims of human trafficking.
“Human trafficking exists in every corner of our state. We need to shut off the demand for these victims,” Phillips-Hill said during the Judiciary Committee meeting at the state Capitol. “This bill flips the paradigm so we no longer label victims as prostitutes or treat criminals as someone caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The legislation increases penalties to a first-degree felony charge for an individual who solicits, recruits, entices, transports, harbors or advertises victims of human trafficking subject to sexual servitude. First-time offenders would be subject to a fine up to $1,000; second-time offenders would be subject to a fine between $5,000 and $25,000; and third and subsequent offenses would be subject to a fine between $10,000 and $25,000. The bill also makes it a super felony subject to fines between $10,000 and $50,000 if the victim subject to sexual servitude is a minor.
Representatives Seth Grove (R-York) and Wendi Thomas (R-Bucks), who are sponsoring similar legislation in the House of Representatives, say the bill makes significant changes toward the overall goal of ending human trafficking in the Commonwealth.
“Human trafficking is nothing more than modern day slavery, a heinous crime our society cannot tolerate,” Grove said. “To further combat this vile crime, I introduced the Buyer Beware Act to give prosecutors more tools to combat this crime which robs victims of their basic humanity. Anyone participating in this despicable trade as a buyer or a trafficker should face the full force of the law.”
“This legislation would shift the focus of state law from punishing the victims of trafficking to punishing those who traffic individuals and those who would buy sex from them,” Thomas added.
One of the bill’s key provisions is ending the demand for human trafficking by adding charges of a third-degree felony for first-time offenders who engage in sexual activity with a victim of human trafficking. Repeat offenders will be subject to first-degree felony charges.
The legislation moves to the full House of Representatives for its consideration.
You can listen to Senator Phillips-Hill’s comments from the committee meeting here.