Pa. senators propose criminal immunity for kids involved in sex trade

    State lawmakers are following up last year’s crackdown on human trafficking with plans to make Pennsylvania safer for child victims.

    Many children involved in sex work are manipulated or forced into it, advocates say, and shouldn’t be treated like criminals. A Senate proposal would prevent prosecution of minors for human trafficking and related offenses.

    “We have to concentrate on the victim and make sure that the victim is treated as a victim,” said Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, a sponsor of the measure.

    Under the plan, which applies only to those under 18, victims would receive services such as medical care, long-term housing, and therapy. They could also be reimbursed for the costs of covering up any tattoos or physical marks used to identify them as part of a human trafficking operation.

    Funding would be provided by the state as well as money from fines levied against convicted human traffickers.

    Sen. Daylin Leach, the other prime sponsor on the bill, frames it as a moral obligation, even if implementation means child prostitutes who willingly engage in human trafficking get away with their crimes.

    “Even if there are a few cases where someone’s doing it voluntarily, is it worth nailing those kids?” said Leach, D-Montgomery. “Is that so important that it’s more important than giving the overwhelming majority of children who are victims of crime the break that they need?”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.