Human trafficking happens in the Valley. It happens everywhere in Pennsylvania and those who profit from this disgusting practice, as well as patrons, will now pay a much steeper price for their indiscretions.

Senate Bill 60, passed by the House on Wednesday, doubles the maximum jail time that an individual may serve for trafficking or patronizing a victim of trafficking. The bill upgrades these to a first-degree felony, carrying a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison. The legislation also increases the fine for repeat offenders, creating an additional fine for a second-time offender of at least $1,000, but no more than $20,000; a third offense would see an additional fine of at least $5,000 but no more than $30,000.

Clearly state lawmakers understand the concern: The state House approved Senate Bill 60 by a 183-4 vote and late last year, the Senate passed the bill unanimously. Gov. Tom Wolf supports the legislation.

For many, this is a silent crime. We read about once in a while, but it never really hits home.

It should.

“It’s happening here in Pennsylvania,” House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler said. “It’s happening in every corner of the state.”

According to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 621 victims of human trafficking in Pennsylvania last year. Some of these crimes are committed right here and they are happening to our children. The Route 15 Corridor, which covers a dozen counties in the middle of the state and bisects the Valley, is a key element in cracking down on the crime.

“The widespread nature of this crime, which robs an individual of their basic human rights, is more abhorrent by the fact that the average age of a victim of sex trafficking or sex slavery is between 12-14 years old,” state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill said.

A year ago, Evangelical Community Hospital — which sits along Route 15 — began requiring online training for nearly 1,200 employees to recognize the signs of human trafficking. It’s a smart and proactive response to an international epidemic that has a foothold here.

This increased awareness now coupled with increased punitive measures, we hope, can go a long way toward slowing down this practice in our region and beyond.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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