Letter: A safe harbor for child-victims of sex trafficking

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To The Editor:

If you’re sitting in a doctor’s office and see a patient wearing handcuffs and leg shackles, your assumption is that she is a criminal. Probably a dangerous criminal. Most likely, you’ll send glances or the body language of fear, disdain and horror.

What if she isn’t a criminal?

What if she is a child-victim of sex trafficking? Although PA Act 105 (a comprehensive law against human trafficking) states that a child younger than 18 years old who is sold for sex is a victim of sex trafficking, other laws allow for her to be arrested and locked up as a criminal prostitute. These shackled victims end up at medical appointments, where patients in waiting rooms shun them and look on with venom, despite the fact that they are children waiting to be treated for the effects of heinous crimes.

Pennsylvania House Bill 2289, known as “Safe Harbor Legislation”—which unanimously passed the PA Senate as SB 554—was penned to correct that situation. If PA HB 2289/SB 554 came into law, child-victims would be provided services instead of handcuffs and lock-up.

Tragically, now the bill itself is a victim. PA House Speaker Mike Turzai has refused to allow HB 2289/SB 554 to move forward for a vote unless an unpopular bill that he has sponsored is brought to the forefront. If Safe Harbor legislation doesn’t pass the PA House of Representatives by December, the bill will die.

As members of the Chester County Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, we have advocated for this legislation for a year-and-a-half. We understand that most children who are sold for sex have been previously sexually, physically and psychologically abused. We have seen survivors who struggle to recover when society doesn’t understand the trauma they have endured. We have seen the destruction of human life that occurs when adults—once victims of child-sex trafficking—have been treated as criminals, not victims. We need additional voices to fight for these child-victims.

It is time for neighbors to call or write their PA Representatives to push for this bill to come up for a vote in fall. It is time to create a more just system for child-victims of sex trafficking.

Until we speak out for them and change the law, children who are already victims are the ones who suffer more.

 

Carol Hart Metzker, West Chester,

and

Diane DeSieno, West Chester, PA 

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