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The Interbranch Commission implements recommendations from the Report of The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial, and Gender Bias in The Justice System. View the Report

Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Victims Committee

Chaired by Lucille Marsh, Esq., the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Victims Committee works to address the particular needs of these victims and improve the legal response to their unique situations. The Committee’s current priorities include:

  • creating a statewide framework to assist victims of human trafficking;
  • advocating for legislation to assist victims of domestic violence and sexual assault; and
  • conducting training sessions for judges and lawyers about this topic.

Assisting Victims of Human Trafficking: Several years ago, the Committee conducted a training session for law enforcement, prosecutors, child advocates, and healthcare providers on the issue of commercial sex trafficking of juveniles in Pennsylvania. The Committee currently collaborates with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV), and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition to promote training on the issue. The Commission also convened a series of four meetings with prominent stakeholders in the field to develop a sheltering protocol for use, with local modifications, across Pennsylvania to address the immediate needs of victims of human trafficking. This effort resulted in the production of a guide by the Commission, entitled Guiding Principles to Address the Needs of Human Trafficking in Pennsylvania (attached at right), which was published in 2020 by the PA Office of Victims Services on its website. The guide provides an overview of existing legal protections for victims and survivors and lays out a set of guiding principles to be used by jurisdictions throughout the Commonwealth to address the unique needs of victims of sexual exploitation.

Assisting Victims of Domestic Violence: Shortly after Pennsylvania implemented its COVID-19 stay-at-home order, several victims’ advocacy organizations requested the Committee’s help with addressing a marked increase in the incidence of domestic violence and child abuse and a corresponding decline in the number of calls by victims and witnesses to helplines. In response, the Committee successfully arranged for then-Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine to devote a portion of her daily COVID-19 press briefing to informing the public about the continued availability of access to the courts and to domestic violence and child abuse victims’ services during the course of the pandemic. The Commission continues to monitor both issues.

Clarifying the Law for Human Trafficking Victims: In July 2020, the Committee sought and obtained from the Interstate Commission for Juveniles (the “ICJ”) an important clarification (attached at right) concerning the applicability of ICJ rules to juvenile human trafficking victims. As clarified, the rule will permit juvenile human trafficking victims, who are not under court supervision in their home states, to remain in the state in which they were found, rather than be involuntarily returned to their home state. This clarification will enable the juveniles to obtain support in their new location away from their traffickers and insecure homes. Because the ICJ’s rule clarification explicitly prevents the involuntary return of victims to their home states, the Committee is actively involved in educating public agencies and the courts about this update.

Other Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts: The Committee is collaborating with K&L Gates to promote the law firm’s Anti-Human Trafficking Initiative, which provides pro bono, civil court representation to victims of human trafficking, particularly but not exclusively in the LGBTQ community. Specifically, the Committee is working with the firm to disseminate information to victims throughout the Commonwealth regarding the availability of legal counsel. The Committee was also recently advised that the Hugh Lane Wellness Center, serving the LGBTQ+ community in Western PA, has launched free civil legal aid services for low-income LGBTQ+/HIV community members in the areas of public benefits assistance, human trafficking, expungements, eviction defense, utilities restoration, and name and gender marker changes.

Legislative Advocacy: With the threat of exploitation growing as a result of technological advances on the Internet and social media platforms, the Committee is advocating for legislative changes that facilitate the prosecution of traffickers and provide appropriate support services for victims.

The Committee’s past initiatives include:

  • advocating for the use of the Sexual Violence Benchbook, included at right under “Reports;”
  • conducting a study of safety procedures in courthouses and related facilities in domestic violence and sexual assault cases; and
  • other initiatives contained in Chapters Ten and Eleven of the Final Report of the Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System.