Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf created new protections and supports for children of human trafficking and sexual exploitation by signing Senate Bill 554, now Act 130 of 2018. The new law shields children from prosecution for crimes their abusers forced them to commit, enhances law enforcement training and establishes a new fund for victim services.
“These vulnerable children of sexual exploitation are victims of horrible abuse, often from a young age. I am proud to sign this law that will protect these children and help them to get the care they need to start their recovery, rather than treat them like criminals, which can further traumatize a child,” Wolf said.
The legislation had strong bipartisan support and was supported by the Pennsylvania State Police, state Office of the Victim Advocate, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, Juvenile Court Judges Commission, Network of Victim’s Assistance of Bucks County, Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research at the University of Pennsylvania, American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, National Sexual Violence Resource Center and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Abusers often use violence, threats, and drugs to control young victims of human trafficking, who can be charged with prostitution and drug offenses, among other crimes.
“I applaud Governor Wolf and the legislature for standing up for minor victims of human trafficking,” said Jennifer Storm, Commonwealth Victim Advocate. “This new law extends compassion and resources to minor victims of human trafficking caught up in horrifically exploitive situations. It goes a long way toward stopping a cycle of violence and abuse to make room for hope and healing.”
Sponsored by State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, Senate Bill 554, known as Safe Harbor, creates new safeguards for children of human trafficking, including:
Creating immunity for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation for certain crimes;
Directing the Department of Human Services to coordinate specialized services for sexually exploited children, in conjunction with county agencies;
Requiring training for law enforcement on how to identify and help victims;
Establishing the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to support care for victims and to prevent human trafficking.
According to the bill sponsor, more than 100,000 children are exploited through prostitution in the United States each year, and since 2016, there were more than 273 human trafficking cases in Pennsylvania.