State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Senate passes thorough human trafficking bill

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Dec 11, 2013 11:00 PM
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Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

The state Senate is trying to beef up laws against human trafficking in Pennsylvania in an effort to end the commonwealth's reputation as a pass-through state for commercial sex and what amounts to slave labor.

The law against human trafficking in Pennsylvania is weak, especially with regard to sex trade.

"That's why we're pushing for an amendment," said Britanny Vanderhoof, with the Polaris Project, which operates the federal government's human trafficking hotline. "To better capture all the types of behavior we're talking about when we're talking about human trafficking -- so people can be appropriately charged and also victims can be identified."

The Polaris Project worked with the Senate to draft harsher laws against both kinds of trafficking. The measure passed the chamber Tuesday afternoon. Legislation with a similar intent, but far less detail, passed in the House earlier this year. The House GOP spokesman said which bill gets to the governor's desk will be worked out between legislative leaders of the two chambers.

Human trafficking is difficult to prosecute - law enforcement can easily identify victims as criminals. To charge someone for human trafficking, the victim must be traced back to the recruiter.

In the realm of sex trafficking, recruitment begins as a relationship and then later becomes exploitation. In labor trafficking, the situation often begins as a trade, and ends with indentured servitude.

"Someone is recruited for a job, but in order to obtain that job, they have to pay $10,000," Vanderhoof said. "Their recruiter will say, 'I will get you a visa, I will get you to the United States, you have to pay me $10,000 in order to do this.'"

The first state laws against human trafficking were passed in 2003, according to the Polaris Project. By 2013, Vanderhoof said every state had passed some sort of law against the practice, after a groundswell of interest from state policy makers around 2005.

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