Jan. 31, 2020

By Rep. Steve Mentzer (R-Lititz)
Recently I joined with my House Republican colleagues in supporting more than a half dozen bills aimed at stopping the scourge of human trafficking in the Commonwealth. The problem exists in big cities, small towns and everything in between.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has a serious human trafficking problem. The Keystone State is ranked 10th on Insider Monkey’s list of top human trafficking states and Pittsburgh is ranked 10th on the list of top U.S. cities for human trafficking in 2019 due to the plague of opioid addiction.

Trafficking cases are found all throughout the Commonwealth: Stroudsburg (most recent incident), York, Lancaster, Harrisburg, State College, Erie, Williamsport, Altoona and Allentown. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that human trafficking is a $150 billion industry, of which $99 billion belongs to sexual exploitation. The ILO report Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour said the other $51 billion resulted from forced economic exploitation, including domestic work, agriculture and other economic activities.

According to the National Hotline 2018 Pennsylvania State Report (published October 2019), from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2018, in Pennsylvania there were:

o 621 human trafficking victims identified.
o 215 traffickers identified.
o 101 trafficking businesses.
o 275 cases reported in 2018.
o Since 2007, there have been 1,211 cases with over 4,972 contacts made with the hotline to report human trafficking in Pennsylvania.

Every year, millions of men, women and children are trafficked worldwide. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations. Language barriers, fear of their traffickers and/or fear of law enforcement frequently keep victims from seeking help, making human trafficking a hidden crime.

To eliminate the driving force that encourages human trafficking, we must punish those who traffic individuals and those who would buy sex. We have introduced a legislative package to accomplish this by expanding the offense for patronizing a victim of trafficking and ensuring that all human trafficking, regardless of the age of the victim, is a first-degree felony. Doubling the amount of maximum jail time for the worst offenders and increasing fines serves as a better deterrent.

If you suspect trafficking is occurring, please call the U.S. Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.