Petrarca amendment strengthens bill protecting victims of child sex trafficking

HARRISBURG, June 5 – A Senate bill that would exempt child victims of sex trafficking from prosecution for the crimes committed against them was approved Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee, state Rep. Joseph Petrarca announced.

“Child victims of sex trafficking are not criminals – they are victims who have been failed by the system. Often times, these children are runaways or victims of abuse who believe their traffickers are the only people in the world who love them,” said Petrarca, D-Westmoreland/Armstrong/Indiana. “Children forced to have sex for money through threat, promise of love, or even the basic need for food and shelter should be protected not prosecuted.”

Under current state law, a child cannot consent to sex with an adult but can be charged with prostitution.

Petrarca amended S.B. 554 so that it would automatically refer children who are suspected victims of sex trafficking to Children and Youth Services agencies. The amendment closely mirrors and originated from Petrarca’s H.B.2289.

Senate Bill 554 also would allow police to focus on capturing real criminals such as traffickers and pimps, and it would require police officers to be trained to identify and assist sexually exploited children, Petrarca noted.

“This legislation would give children the services they need to leave sex trafficking behind,” Petrarca said. “It would train law enforcement on how to approach these children and get them the help they need, and preserves the ability of prosecutors to crack down on traffickers.”

If enacted into law, S.B. 554 would require the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to develop and implement protocols to provide safe and stable housing, education and counseling to victims.

This bill now goes to the full House for consideration.