As discussed in our earlier post, New York and Illinois are noteworthy for their early adoption of state laws to help put an end to human trafficking and prosecute traffickers. However, many states are still struggling to make policies that will stop traffickers.

In Pennsylvania, the battle to reverse age old polices that harmed trafficking victims is starting to turn. Progress has been made due to a package of three different proposals that state senators, such as Senator Daylin Leach, have been pushing in the last eight years. Senator Leach’s interest in solving this problem comes from the responsibility he feels as Chairman on the Senate Judiciary Committee to make policies that are just and correct policies that are unjust. As society changes, the laws of the past can become unjust, and even cruel, so rigorous reassessment of current statutes is vital.

In 2012, Representative Paul Clymer announced House Bill 235, a companion bill to Senator Daylin Leach’s Senate Bill 338, a human trafficking hotline bill. These two bills were created into Act 197 of 2012, known as the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline Notification Act. This requires that the number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline be posted in certain establishments and locations in Pennsylvania.

In 2014, Senate Bill 75 was passed. Act 105 of 2014, known as the Comprehensive Anti-Human Trafficking Reform, defines human trafficking in PA law, educates first responders, and provides services for victims, among other things. Before this was passed, Pennsylvania was one of the two states in the country that lacked a comprehensive legal definition of human trafficking. Pennsylvania then joined 32 other states as a “Tier 1” state based on Polaris Project’s policy program in the fight against human trafficking.

Currently, Pennsylvania is trying to pass Senate Bill 851, known as the Safe Harbor Bill. This bill was introduced by Senator Steward J. Greenleaf. This legislation will bar anyone 18 years and younger from being arrested, being criminally charged or being prosecuted for allegations of prostitution and other crimes directly related to their sexual exploitation. Furthermore, this bill would make rehabilitative services available to children, instead of punishing them further or giving them a criminal record. The bill is now before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Leach published an Op-Ed on January 11th, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, to emphasize to the public how important it is to fight against this horrible crime. Although states like Pennsylvania are trying to push for more legislation to stop human trafficking, there is still the pressing issue of resources for women after they are free of their convictions or from the traffickers. There is still a wide misconception on what human trafficking is, which is why there is a need to raise awareness and support for this cause. Human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery and the need for pro bono services has never been greater.