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Finally, an anti-sex-trafficking law

MORGAN ZALOT'S recent article on sex trafficking in Philadelphia offered a compelling look into the lives of women who have been exploited for the commercial sex industry. While this piece accurately described how a lack of social supports, a system unequ

MORGAN ZALOT'S recent article on sex trafficking in Philadelphia offered a compelling look into the lives of women who have been exploited for the commercial sex industry. While this piece accurately described how a lack of social supports, a system unequipped to prosecute offenders and the effects of severe trauma often prevent women (disproportionately, poor women of color) from cooperating with the district attorney's investigations, one significant development in the fight to end sex trafficking was overlooked. In the last two years, Women's Way and our partners in the Philadelphia Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition worked closely with State Senators Greenleaf, Dinniman and Leach to draft and advocate for the passage of the anti-trafficking Senate Bill 75. This comprehensive piece of legislation addressed human trafficking from the perspective of law enforcement, social services and victims' rights. We are proud to report that the bill, now PA Act 105, was signed into law in July.

One of the primary barriers to effectively prosecuting offenders was inadequate statute defining human trafficking in Pennsylvania. Without an inclusive legal definition on the books, women who had been exploited were often arrested for solicitation and re-victimized by a system designed to protect them. Act 105 creates clear statute on sex and labor trafficking, which will now be classified as second-degree felonies (first degree if the victim suffers bodily injury or is a minor), enabling prosecutors to bring perpetrators to justice. The law also includes important resources for victims, including measures to protect a woman's identity during the trial, provide her with restitution for the time that she was exploited and safeguard her right to pursue civil charges against her perpetrators.

Advocates around the state now shift our collective focus to ensuring that the agencies charged with putting Act 105 into practice have the resources to effectively coordinate services and enforcement, since we know that a law is only as meaningful as its implementation.

We in the anti-trafficking community believe that Act 105, which will go into effect in early September, will have a transformative impact on how victim/survivors are treated inside and outside the criminal-justice system. Ultimately, though, we must engage in a broader conversation about the conditions that precipitate human trafficking - both on the supply and demand side. Until we critically examine such deep-seated issues as entrenched poverty, institutional violence and the commodification of women's bodies, we will continue to see women and girls marginalized and exploited.

Women's Way and our network of grantees are committed to addressing a broad spectrum of issues - everything from gender-based violence to economic security, from reproductive health-care to even the leadership development of girls - in an effort to prevent women from being susceptible to exploitation in the first place. Through this multi-tiered approach, we seek to foster a sea change in social-movement thinking, one that moves away from single-issue solutions and towards a more holistic worldview. We invite all who are interested in this idea to join us as we build a movement broad and complex enough to achieve safety, equity and justice for all women and girls.

Wendy Voet

Executive Director

Women's Way

Published