Delco DA worries about safe harbor bill

DELAWARE COUNTY

D.A. worries about safe harbor bill

HARRISBURG Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan testified Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on child trafficking, and called for better resources for law enforcement and heavier reliance on the juvenile court system in appropriate sex-crime cases.

Speaking on "safe harbor" legislation for child trafficking victims, Whelan argued that the law could unintentionally perpetuate sex crimes against minors. He said the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association opposes the legislation.

Safe harbor legislation calls for legal protection for children caught in sex trafficking, meaning they could not be held criminally accountable for prostitution or be subject to juvenile delinquency proceedings. The bill was sponsored by State Sens. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery) and Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery).

Whelan argued that while well-intentioned, the law gives children the freedom to walk away from programs available in the juvenile system - leaving the possibility that they will go back to the crimes' perpetrators, whom the child may trust.

Victims "have been broken by their perpetrators," he said. "They cannot make appropriate decisions on their own."

Juvenile system programs would be targeted at rehabilitation, not punishment, Whelan said. "We want them to heal," he said. - Caitlin McCabe