A human trafficking and drug investigation involving Beaver County District Attorney’s office, the FBI human trafficking task force, Center Township police, and Pittsburgh police resulted in the discovery of two potential human trafficking victims and sixteen pending arrests of sex buyers. The team focused on several hotels in Center Township targeting the demand for commercial sex by arresting those who sought to buy sex, and not prosecuting prostituted persons. Following the investigation, FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Michael Christman stated “[h]uman trafficking is a serious problem in too many of our communities. The trauma caused by traffickers to their victims is inexcusable.”
Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier designed the operation to identify potential victims of human trafficking, and referring victims to support services. Lozier explained “[t]hey’re being coerced into the world of prostitution to provide access to drugs. In these cases, the person we’re looking to arrest, usually, is a male who is being sexually serviced against the law. We’re looking to identify an individual who may be trafficked and trapped in that scenario to take them out of that situation and provide services as we identify if they have been trafficked.” Lozier also dismissed harmful rumors that traffickers in Beaver County prey on women and families at big-box stores such as Walmart.
Lozier recognized that a recent hotel construction boom in the community could increase the occurrence of sex trafficking and prostitution. Lozier used this as an opportunity to target sex buyers, as he stated that any time you have “a cluster of hotels with a lot of out of town guests you’re gonna have drug trafficking and prostitution.” Police Chief Barry Kramer reported that law enforcement is finding issues near the cluster of hotels in Center Township.
It is important to note that hotels may be held civilly and criminally liable for their involvement in sex trafficking. Hotels and motels are among the most common venues for facilitating and financially benefitting from sex trafficking. Over the last several years there have been multiple lawsuits filed against the hotel industry, exposing the prevalence of sex trafficking and prostitution occurring on hotel property . Plaintiffs in these civil cases are often victims of sex traffickingalleging that the hotels are liable under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) and state anti-trafficking laws. When hotel employees disregard indicators of sex trafficking and allow related criminal activity to occur on hotel property, the hotel itself effectively profits from the trafficking and can face liability. It is unclear at this time whether any Beaver County hotels are facing charges following this investigation.
The CSE Institute urges individuals in the hospitality industry to recognize their ability to prevent commercial sexual exploitation in hotels by implementing tangible solutions, such as mandatory trainings for hotel employees on how to recognize signs of sex trafficking and how to alert authorities. The CSE Institute applauds DA Lozier and the investigation task force for implementing a trauma-informed, anti-demand approach to combat sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in their area. We support their continued dedication to eradicating commercial sexual exploitation by targeting the demand for sex and providing victim-centric services to prostituted persons.