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Gov. Tom Wolf has signed into law a bill supported by state lawmakers that would require human trafficking offenses to be considered in a person’s bid for child custody.

We agree with this piece of legislation, even as we find it extremely unsettling that such legislation is needed in the first place. The House and Senate passed the measure unanimously.

It is impossible for area residents to deny that human trafficking happens locally.

In December, Stephen J. Apostolu of Altoona was sentenced to 12 to 25 years in jail on multiple counts of child pornography, indecent assault and child sex trafficking.

The sentence was negotiated in exchange for guilty pleas to avoid a jury trial.

Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident. There were 271 cases of human trafficking in Pennsylvania in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

There were far more in neighboring states to our north and west. In New York, 454 cases were reported, and in Ohio, 450.

The vast majority of those cases involved the sex trade whose victims often were minors.

An example is Jeffrey Epstein who recruited young women for sex in an international scandal in which a number of powerful men were implicated. After being arrested in July 2019, Epstein was found dead in his cell the following month. While he escaped legal judgment, his alleged collaborator, Ghislaine Maxwell, faces charges of allegedly aiding Epstein’s sexual abuse of young girls.

In the United States, both U.S. residents and foreign nationals are being bought and sold like modern-day slaves, according to the FBI.

“Traffickers use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to exploit victims,” the FBI’s website states. “Victims are forced to work as prostitutes or to take jobs as migrant, domestic, restaurant, or factory workers with little or no pay.”

Also consider that one in seven children reported missing in 2018 were victims of sex trafficking, according to state Rep. David Rowe, R-East Buffalo Township, sponsor of the legislation that was just signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Rowe said the average age of those forced into sex slavery is 12.

Yes, 12 years of age.

It’s absolutely revolting.

If you suspect human trafficking, please report it to authorities. Call 911 for local authorities or 1-888-373-7888 for the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Meanwhile, no one who participates in human trafficking should ever be trusted with the custody of a child.

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