Let’s in­crease penal­ties on pa­trons to re­duce sex traf­fick­ing

The Morning Call - - TOWN SQUARE | A PLACE TO BE HEARD - Eric Fail­ing is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Penn­syl­va­nia Catholic Con­fer­ence. He re­sides in the Harrisburg area.

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.

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 Phillip­sHill (R-York), and House Bill 12, spon­sored by Rep. Seth Grove (R-Dover Town­ship), would in­crease penal­ties and fines not only for in­di­vid­u­als con­victed of traf­fick­ing, but also for in­di­vid­u­als con­victed of pa­tron­iz­ing a vic­tim of traf­fick­ing.

Rep. 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.

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 rare 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 treat­ing pa­tron­iz­ing of pros­ti­tu­tion only 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

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