Police, prosecutors and non-profit groups have joined forces to announce the state’s first Human Trafficking Response Team. It will cover a five county area in Central Pennsylvania, according to Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico. “Just as we’re a major pass through for commerce, we can also be a thoroughfare for human trafficking,” Marsico said at a Wednesday news conference. Marsico is also president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA), which made the announcement alongside the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR).
PCAR’s Criminal Justice Specialist, Krista Hoffman, says human trafficking does occur in Pennsylvania. “Every year between 100,000 and 300,000 US kids… are trafficked for prostitution within the United States,” she says. Human trafficking became a criminal offense in Pennsylvania in 2005, and it occurs when a person is forced, coerced, threatened or deceived into performing labor or prostitution. Hoffman notes that it does not have to involve travel.
A grant from the Department of Health and Human Services will help to train a multidisciplinary team to respond to potential crimes of human trafficking in Dauphin, Adams, Cumberland, Perry and Franklin Counties. But, officials see room for expansion. “[It can] become an example of a best practice for the rest of Pennsylvania, and others throughout the country,” Marsico says. Hoffman echoed those thoughts after the news conference: “If we can take our model of the five-county human trafficking task force and then expand it and really roll it out to the rest of Pennsylvania, I think it would be very effective.”