Eric Failing: Working to end slavery of human trafficking | TribLIVE.com
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Eric Failing: Working to end slavery of human trafficking

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The history books tell us that slavery officially ended in the United States on Dec. 6, 1865, when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. However, the prevalence of human trafficking cases across the country tells us that slavery lives on.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as a form of modern-day slavery that involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. It is estimated to be a $100 billion global industry that can be found everywhere, including Pennsylvania.

Whatever is being done to fight human trafficking is obviously not enough. Stricter penalties are needed for those involved at both ends of the crime — the supplier and the customer. In most instances, the person caught in the middle, the one providing the illegal service, is actually a victim. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference strongly supports and urges swift passage of state legislation that would bring necessary changes to crack down on traffickers and their customers.

Senate Bill 60, sponsored by Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, and House Bill 12, sponsored by Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, would increase penalties and fines not only for individuals convicted of trafficking, but also for individuals convicted of patronizing a victim of trafficking.

Grove’s approach is simple: Reduce the number of customers to reduce incentive to traffic human beings. That’s the rationale behind the name of the bill, “Buyer Beware.” If something drives those customers away, the business will close.

This legislation is important in fighting modern-day slavery because arrests in prostitution cases are primarily the victims of trafficking, not those ultimately responsible for it. Shea Rhodes of the Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation at Villanova University Law School says that, on average, prostituted people are arrested at three times the rate that sex buyers are — despite the fact that these two offenses are legally equivalent.

So what does prostitution have to do with human trafficking? Dauphin County District Attorney Francis Chardo says the vast majority of people involved in prostitution are the victims of human trafficking. Chardo says it’s very infrequent that a person will choose this type of life willingly. He says many times it can be children who are taken from their homes and forced to perform. Often, it’s girls and women addicted to opioids who are held captive with the promise of repeat fixes. There have even been instances of young girls, one as young as 4, being sexually trafficked by their parents.

The difficulty for prosecutors is proving the actual knowledge that someone was being forced into their role. But the law doesn’t help the situation by only treating patronizing of prostitution as a misdemeanor of the third degree. There needs to be more of a deterrent in the law in much the same way that there is for drunk driving. The stiffness in penalties for a DUI has not stopped everyone from getting behind the wheel after drinking, but it’s certainly persuaded many people to call an Uber.

Every shocking and horrifying story is a reminder that the law must be changed to deal more harshly with those who choose to make these victims available and those who take advantage of that availability. You might think this happens only in foreign countries, but not here in the United States and certainly not in Pennsylvania. The sad truth is that, since 2007, the National Trafficking Hotline has received more than 3,700 calls related to human trafficking in Pennsylvania. More than 800 of those were considered high levels of human trafficking.

Pennsylvania needs harsher punishments to discourage human traffickers and their customers. That’s why the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference supports SB 60 and HB 12.

Eric Failing is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.

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