‘Say no more:’ Advocates gather in support of anti-trafficking legislation
Rep. Joe Webster called the bill a ‘step in the right direction,’ but acknowledged that more needs to be done to address the issue of human trafficking.
Amy Peffley, president of the Zonta Club of Harrisburg-Hershey, speaks at a rally in support of HB 1241 on Wed., Nov. 15, 2023 (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).
A bill to require massage businesses to obtain a state-issued license in Pennsylvania has garnered the support of anti-human trafficking advocates who say the legislation will help create accountability for illicit massage businesses where instances of human trafficking are occurring.
Amy Peffley, president of the Zonta Club of Harrisburg-Hershey, an organization supporting the bill, said the goal is to educate people about the prevalence of human trafficking in Pennsylvania and prevent it from happening in the first place.
Speaking from the state Capitol in Harrisburg on Wednesday, advocates hoping to prevent and end human trafficking in Pennsylvania said that a bill currently before the House Professional Licensure Committee would help accomplish this goal.
House Bill 1241, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Webster (D-Montgomery), would require massage businesses to obtain a state-issued license, granting inspectors and law enforcement access to the facility at any time. It would also require that victims of trafficking are provided services through the Office of Victims’ Services.
Webster called the bill a “step in the right direction,” but acknowledged that more needs to be done to address the issue of human trafficking.
“This bill is designed to simply create that license so that a business has to be licensed for six months. It gives the DOS the power to regulate, but also the responsibility to do it,” Webster said, adding that the bill has bipartisan support.
Webster said that he didn’t realize the extent of human trafficking in Pennsylvania until his home county was listed among the highest for reported cases.
“I had no idea,” he said.
Pennsylvania ranks 15th for reports of human trafficking with Lancaster, Montgomery, Dauphin, Berks, and Chester counties recording the highest number of reported cases.
“That’s a list we don’t want to be on,” Webster said.
Shared Hope International, a nonprofit focused on the prevention of sex trafficking, recently released report cards for all 50 states, giving Pennsylvania a “D” grade for its policies related to human trafficking.
States such as Maine and Massachusetts have recently adopted legislation to decriminalize selling sex but keeps existing laws against buying it intact. However, Pennsylvania has so far not taken up similar bills.
State Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) said that a recent trafficking operation bust in Hampden Township, Cumberland County demonstrates how close to home the issue continues to be and how Pennsylvania’s geography is a factor in the prevalence of trafficking.
“We are a pass through to millions and millions of people,” Delozier said. “We have roads that travel everywhere up and down the East Coast. And Pennsylvania, unfortunately, is a hub because it’s easy access to ports, to planes, to trucks, to truck stops.”
Delozier added that the impact of trafficking reaches far beyond its victims.
“The ability for us to recognize that each and every time that this happens — It’s not just about the silent victims, it affects our constituency, it affects our friends, it affects those that we know in our communities, and we need to stand up and say no more.”
Delozier also noted the need to center survivors in any policy adopted and ensure victims are not punished instead of the perpetrators of exploitation.
“I think it’s very, very important that we make sure that the victim is seen as the victim and not as part of the criminal intent,” Delozier said. “We know we can do better to protect victims.”
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