On November 17, 2017, The Times-Tribune reported that the Lackawanna County police and district attorney’s office had located a man and woman at a South Scranton hotel using Backpage.com. The investigation resulted in authorities confiscating approximately $25,000 worth of heroin and arresting both individuals.
The case began with Lackawanna County police “browsing” Backpage.com, a sight commonly used to sell human trafficking victims for sex. The officer replied to an advertisement for a potential prostituted person who went by the name, “Nikki.” The officer agreed to meet “Nikki” at the Sheraton Four Points on Meadow Avenue, offering to pay her $160 for 30 minutes of sex. The officer arrived at the hotel and was greeted by “Nikki” from the online advertisement. When he offered her the agreed upon payment, additional officers arrested “Nikki” and Pierre Clemat, who was also at the hotel.
Officers allegedly witnessed Clemat throw out a baggie which contained 61 grams of heroin. They confiscated two iPhones and $1,460 in cash from Clemat, as well. “Nikki” allegedly told police Clemat was her boyfriend and that he provided her with heroin. This information was corroborated by the single gram of heroin the police allegedly found in “Nikki’s” purse. Clemat is currently registered as a level two sex offender in Massachusetts, as he was convicted of indecent assault and battery on a person aged 14 or older in 2014. He was also recently released from prison in Danbury, Connecticut on $2,500 bail due to two felony weapon charges. Clemat plead not guilty to both weapons charges and is scheduled to return to court for pre-trial conference on December 5, 2017. In the current instance, Clemat was only charged with three drug-related offenses (one felony, two misdemeanors), while “Nikki” was charged with prostitution and three drug-related offenses (misdemeanors and ungraded). Both have a preliminary hearing schedule for November 30, 2017.
Unfortunately, this type of narrative is extremely common in the world of commercial sexual exploitation. Many prostituted persons initially become involved in selling sex through their “boyfriends,” who eventually become their traffickers through control, manipulation, and coercion. Furthermore, traffickers supplying drugs to the persons they sell for sex is a powerful way to maintain power and keep prostituted persons dependent. There are several warning signs that law enforcement, prosecutors, and even members of the community can look for if they are suspicious someone is a victim of human trafficking. These signs include the potential victim working long and odd hours, exhibiting fearful or anxious behavior, or not having access to adequate healthcare amongst other indicators.
This story also illuminates the media’s lack of sensitivity and understanding regarding commercial sexual exploitation. While the details of this case are still unfolding, The Times-Tribune and author of the article, Joseph Kohut, should consider not posting the full name, address, or pictures of potential victims of human trafficking. This kind of reporting stigmatizes prostituted people, treating them as criminals rather than the victims they really are.
Finally, the CSE Institute is disappointed that Lackawanna County Police specifically conducted an investigation aimed at arresting prostituted persons for selling sex. The CSE Institute encourages law enforcement to utilize reverse-sting operations that target the demand for commercial sex, rather than focusing primarily on those who sell it. We also hope that the Assistant District Attorney assigned to these two cases to examine the power dynamic between Clemat and “Nikki” to determine if Clemat is indeed a trafficker who was victimizing “Nikki” for his own profit. If so, the prosecutor should consider utilizing the human trafficking laws in Pennsylvania to bring additional charges against Clemat. In addition, we would encourage the Lackawanna County District Attorney to look into the culpability of the hotel staff to see if they were aware of should have been aware of potential illegal activity, such as sex trafficking occurring on their property. To learn more about the decriminalization of victims and demand-driven tactics, please read about the Nordic Model.
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.