Op/Ed: We must stop human trafficking

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By Kristine Howard, Special To The Times

State Rep. Kristine Howard

For many, the phrase human trafficking conjures images of elsewhere. They may have heard that the U.S. Department of State estimates some 12 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. But not here, surely. Not in my backyard.

Yet sadly, terrifyingly, it is here.

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape estimates over 100,000 U.S. citizens are victims of human trafficking each year, plus tens of thousands of undocumented citizens are suffering forced labor within our borders.

More shockingly still, the Philadelphia area has been identified as a major American hub for human trafficking.

Traffickers profit from abusing and exploiting others, most often through forced labor and sex crimes. These traffickers wield immense power over their victims by forcing them into extreme dependency.

That these appalling acts happen today, in our own community, is mind-boggling. Something must be done, and I am happy to say that my fellow legislators – on both sides of the aisle – and I recently voted nearly unanimously on the following bills to support victims and to toughen penalties for human trafficking:

  • H.B. 161 – Would amend the Crimes Code to increase the grading for a conviction for dealing in infant children from a first-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree felony.
  • H.B. 2174 – Would amend the Crimes Code to ensure it affords victims of human trafficking the same protections contained in Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law.
  • H.B. 2175 – Would expand the list of offenses where an expert may testify about the dynamics of sexual violence and victim responses to sexual violence.
  • H.B. 2176 – Would amend the Crimes Code to add certain prohibited activities that, if committed, constitute the crime of unlawful contact with a minor.
  • H.B. 2177 – Would amend the Judiciary Code to expand the list of sexual offenses for which inmates must undergo sex offender counseling.
  • H.B. 2178 – Would amend the Domestic Relations Code to expand the list of criminal convictions of a party or member of a party household that a court must consider before making a custody determination.
  • S.B. 60 – Now Act 1 of 2020, amends the Crimes Code to increase penalties relating to human trafficking and enhance funding for programs/services for trafficking victims.

This bipartisan effort is an important step in our dedicated efforts to ending the nightmare of modern-day slavery.

If you are a victim of human trafficking and need help, or suspect that someone else is a victim:

  • Call 911 if you are in immediate danger.
  • Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888.
  • Text the letters “Befree” or the numbers 233733 to reach the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
  • If you suspect that human trafficking activity is present in your community, you may report a tip online.
  • Contact the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape at 1-800-692-7445.

Kristine Howard represents the 167th District

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