HARRISBURG (October 22, 2018) – New protections for victims of human trafficking in Pennsylvania are set to be signed into law thanks to the work of state Senator Andy Dinniman and others.

The Senate unanimously voted to concur to House amendments to Senate Bill 554 on the last day of the 2017-18 legislative session. Earlier this year both chambers had unanimously passed the bill. It is expected to be signed by the governor

“It came down to the wire, but we did it,” Dinniman said. “The work of so many supporters, advocates and organizations paid off in forcing my fellow lawmakers to confront the harsh reality of human trafficking, a nefarious criminal enterprise that knows no borders, striking in some of our most impoverished communities and our wealthiest enclaves alike.”

The bill, introduced by state Senator Stewart Greenleaf, and co-sponsored by Dinniman, aims to protect juvenile victims of human trafficking from potential prosecution by diverting them into appropriate human services programs rather than the criminal justice system. In turn, victims will be able to receive specialized trauma healthcare and therapy, as well as victim services provided by social workers.

Senate Bill 554 also calls for:

  • Specialized training for police officers to identify and assist sexually exploited children.
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to develop and implement a statewide protocol to deliver safe and stable housing, education and life-skills training, and counseling to children who have been exploited.

“This is a matter of protecting victims, especially juveniles, by ensuring they get the support and recovery services they need, rather than trying to hold them accountable for crimes they were forced into,” Dinniman said.  “It also helps ensure that our law enforcement professionals have the tools they need to bring human traffickers to justice and that our human services personnel have the resources they need to help victims begin and stay on the path to recovery.”

Dinniman thanked the bill’s prime sponsor, Senator Greenleaf for his longstanding and bipartisan work in the battle against human trafficking. Greenleaf is set to retire at the end of this session.

“Senator Greenleaf has been an absolute champion on this issue – for standing up for victims and standing against those who seek to exploit, harm and victimize our children and our communities,” Dinniman said. “His stalwart leadership, voice and vision has been a guiding force on these issues and will be missed in the Senate.”

Dinniman also credited Greenleaf with the passage of Act 105 of 2014 (Senate Bill 75), which improved and better defined Pennsylvania’s human trafficking laws so that they could be better utilized by law enforcement.

The groundbreaking law gave Pennsylvania its first comprehensive legal definition of human trafficking and provided other tools to combat the crime. It also strengthened protections for victims both during any subsequent court processes and afterward in the form of civil action against their traffickers.

According to Covenant House, 1 in 5 homeless or runaway children has been a victim of trafficking. Thirty-four states already have Safe Harbor laws. It is estimated that over 100,000 children are sexually exploited in the United States every year and 273 cases were reported in Pennsylvania in 2016.

 

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