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State bill would add adult sex traffickers, customers to Megan’s Law lists

Chuck Biedka
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State Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield

Sex trafficking is on the rise in Pennsylvania and state Sen. Kim Ward wants authorities to better keep track of those convicted of the offense.

Ward, R-Hempfield, is proposing a change to state law that would require those convicted of sex trafficking adults to be added to the Megan’s List of sex offenders in the state.

“People convicted of trafficking juveniles are added to Megan’s List and those restrictions. That’s not the case for convictions of people trafficking adults for the sex trade,” said Ward.

Sex trafficking is defined as profiting by forcing another person to engage in sex acts either through the promise of payment or by the use of threats or violence.

“Its going on and it’s terrible,” said Ward, who is in her third term.

According to Polaris, a group that maintains the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Pennsylvania recorded 246 cases involving sexual trafficking in 2018. A 24 percent increase from last year.

The group said Pennsylvania had 199 trafficking cases reported in 2017, a 27 percent increase from the 157 cases in 2016, and a 79 percent increase from 2015, when there were 111 cases. There were less than 100 trafficking cases in the state in 2012, according to data from Polaris.

Under Ward’s proposed legislation, both the traffickers and those who engage in sex acts with persons being trafficked would be added to the state’s sexual offenders registry.

People convicted of sex trafficking an adult or patronizing an adult in sexual servitude would be added to the Tier 1 offenders list, who must report their whereabouts and other information annually to state police for 15 years.

Someone convicted of causing the “sexual servitude” of an adult would be added to Tier 2 offenders, who must report twice a year for 25 years.

Ward’s bill is in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The measure has 12 cosponsors — from both political parties — in the Senate.

A Republican caucus spokeswoman on Tuesday said the Ward bill remains in the Judiciary Committee. Records show the bill was assigned there on Jan. 31.

“A Department of Justice report from 2017 said most sex traffickers repeat crimes and have prior criminal records,” Ward said.

Ward said there appears to be support for the measure.

“I haven’t received any negative feedback,” she said.

A counselor who directs the Alle-Kiski Area HOPE Center likes the bill.

“We have worked with (adult) victims of sexual trafficking in the past year,” said HOPE Center Executive Director Michelle Gibb. “It’s not uncommon here,” she said, adding that law regarding sex trafficking should apply to those who traffic adults as well as children.

“This should be a slam-dunk,” Gibb said.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, [email protected] or via Twitter @ChuckBiedka.