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Governor Wolf signs bill to end "scourge of human trafficking" in Pennsylvania

The Buyer Beware Act increases penalties on people who patronize victims of human trafficking as well as those who advertise those victims for sexual servitude.
Credit: WPMT

DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. — A new measure signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf would place significant penalties on criminals who solicit or advertise the sexual services of victims of human trafficking, according to the bill’s prime sponsor, Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York).

The new law, called the “Buyer Beware Act,” builds on recent efforts over the last few years by the General Assembly to curb human trafficking in the Commonwealth.

Lawmakers say this law flips the conversation from punishing victims labeled as prostitutes to those who sell or solicit their services.

“Today we are saying we stand with victims of human trafficking and law enforcement by providing new tools and penalties on those who seek to obtain services of victims of human trafficking as well as those who advertise those victims for sexual servitude,” Phillips-Hill said. “Human trafficking is a big business that exists in every corner of our Commonwealth and today is the big step Pennsylvania needed to take in order to shut down this devastating crime destroying so many innocent lives.”

Act 1 of 2020 will subject individuals to a first-degree felony charge if the criminal recruits, harbors, entices, transports, or advertises human trafficking victims subject to sexual servitude. The bill also significantly increases monetary penalties on criminals who patronize a victim of human trafficking as well.

First-time offenders would be subject to a fine up to $1,000, up from $500; second-time offenders would be subject to a fine between $5,000 and $25,000; and third and subsequent offenses would be subject to a fine between $10,000 and $25,000.

The measure is called the “Buyer Beware Act” due to a key provision within the law that includes a third-degree felony charge for first-time offenders who engage in sexual activity with a victim of human trafficking. Repeat offenders will be subject to first-degree felony charges. If the victim is a minor, criminals would be subject to a super felony subject to fines between $10,000 and $50,000.

State lawmakers passed the House version late last month.

RELATED: Legislation to combat human trafficking in Pennsylvania passes House

Lawmakers believe that penalizing both those who subject these victims to sexual servitude as well as those who purchase the services of these victims will provide more tools to law enforcement in the Commonwealth.

“Living along the Interstate 83 corridor, we have immense challenges when it comes to the human trafficking pipeline that funnels through our region each and every day. Act 1 will make an impact in the ongoing fight to eradicate human trafficking from the state,” Phillips-Hill added.

Revenue generated by the increased fines will go to assist in further efforts against human trafficking across the state through funding programs including Prevention of Human Trafficking restricted account and the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund.

The new law goes into effect in 60 days.