Waynesboro Police recently busted a commercial sexual exploitation enterprise operating out of the local Days Inn hotel, and have identified Benjamin J. Canute, 27, of Gettysburg, as the alleged pimp. According to court documents, Canute is charged with various acts of promoting prostitution, including encouraging prostitution (a third degree felony), soliciting a person to patronize a prostitute (a second degree misdemeanor), and procuring a prostitute for a patron (a second degree misdemeanor). He was arraigned on April 26, 2017, and is currently in Franklin County Jail on $25,000 bail. Canute was also arrested earlier in April for possession of marijuana and conspiracy to commit a robbery. The outcome of those charges is pending as well.
Public Opinion online, a USA Today publication, reports that a confidential informant aware of illegal activities ongoing in the hotel reported incidents of prostitution and drug use to police. The informant apparently told police that two women were being advertised on Backpage.com, an infamous website where people can be bought and sold for sex.
After corroborating this information, the officers initiated an investigation that eventually led to them observing Canute leaving a hotel room that was allegedly being used for prostitution. Indeed, according to the media report, during the investigation several other men were seen entering and exiting the same room on one night. The Waynesboro Police followed one of these men and questioned him. The unidentified man admitted to buying sex from one of the women advertised on Backpage. Instead of arresting and charging this man with patronizing prostitution, a crime in Pennsylvania, the Waynesboro Police incorporated the sex buyer into their investigation strategy.
The following day, the man arranged to meet the prostituted woman under the guise of another commercial sex transaction. While traveling in a vehicle together, officers pulled them over. According to the media report, the prostituted woman told police that Canute was pimping her out. According to the media, she showed the officers live text messages from Canute which contained threats of violence if she did reveal her whereabouts. The prostituted woman continues to cooperate with police and was not arrested or charged in connection with this investigation.
The CSE Institute commends the Waynesboro Police for not charging the victims in this case with any crimes. Prostituted people are sexual assault victims, not criminals. While we believe it is crucial to hold all commercial sexual exploitation perpetrators –traffickers, exploiters, and facilitators- accountable, we recognize that in this investigation the cooperative involvement of the identified sex buyer significantly contributed to the arrest of a dangerous pimp. We certainly recommend the sex buyer be referred to rehabilitative services and the victims be connected with any assistance and services they need.
All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.