Bill aims to keep trafficking victims from being charged as criminals

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Children used in human sex trafficking can be charged with crimes they’re forced to commit because of a loophole in state law. Lawmakers are now trying to fix that.

You may not think this is an issue in the Midstate, but ABC27 News has reported on Midstate children being prostituted. Those victims can be charged as criminals.

“People think this only happens in foreign countries and other states, but it happens here all the time,” Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery/Bucks) said.

Primarily, on the Internet.  Last legislative session, Greenleaf’s legislation, Act 105 of 2014 (S.B. 75), made criminals of human traffickers.

“You could be prosecuted for prostitution, but we didn’t have a specific crime that outlawed sexual trafficking in human beings, so we corrected that,” Greenleaf said.

Now, he said we have to correct another injustice: treating victims as criminals.

“We have to stop that, and particularly when they’re dealing with children,” Greenleaf said. “Children can’t consent to this.”

Child victims can be charged prostitution, drug use, even loitering. But Greenleaf’s Senate Bill 851 would stop that.

“Society for decades, centuries have considered this as a voluntary action on their part. It is not,” he said.

Susan Mathias is the CEO of Transitions of PA, where she works with trafficking victims. She said the legislation could take the fight against human sex trafficking to the next level.

“It really does focus on child sexual exploitation because so much of the problem with human trafficking relates to our children,” Mathias said.

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said the legislation moves the criminal justice system in a positive direction.

“These juveniles, these girls will end up back with their pimp if there’s no intervention by the criminal justice system,” Marsico said.  “That’s one of the things we’re concerned about – is they get services they need.”

The bill would do just that, make sure children get the proper care and counseling

“We need to stop this,” Greenleaf said. “This is a terrible evil that’s in our commonwealth and this legislation will go a long way in stopping it.”

Senate Bill 851 has yet to see much action, but Greenleaf said it has lots of support.

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