On February 3, 2021, the Pennsylvania Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, and a grand jury announced that Pennsylvania District Attorney, Chad Salsman, is facing twenty four criminal charges including three separate charges of sexual assault, five separate charges of indecent assault, twelve counts of intimidation of a witness or victim, one count of obstruction of justice, and promoting prostitution. As a basis for the charges, the Grand Jury determined Salsman coerced, manipulated, and assaulted numerous women while he represented them as their defense attorney before he was elected Bradford County District Attorney.
Attorney General Shapiro stated Salsman “regularly” used his status as an attorney to coerce five female victims, who were also his clients, to perform sexual acts on him. According to Attorney General Shapiro, many of these alleged instances of assault occurred in Salsman’s office while other office staff were in the same building. One victim recounted that she met with Salsman in his office and, during that meeting, confided in him that she had been raped by an individual Salsman had previously represented. During a subsequent visit to his office, with full knowledge of her history of sexual violence, Salsman allegedly told the victim to enter through a back door and undress. In a perverse act of abuse, Salsman then allegedly sexually assaulted her and threatened to ruin her life if she told anybody about the encounter.
All five victims testified Salsman would routinely intimidate them and use their own vulnerabilities against them to commit unwanted sex acts on them—on his office desk—and then tell them not to tell anybody about the encounters. Additionally, Salsman’s office staff testified to the grand jury that there was a policy at Salsman’s law office that staff would turn on the air conditioning unit or loud music in order to drown out the sounds of his meetings. Salsman’s staff further testified that Salsman would keep the contents of his female clients’ legal files secret from his legal staff. Finally, his staff also testified to seeing female clients often leave his office in tears.
Any sex act in exchange for anything of value by means of coercion constitutes sex trafficking under Pennsylvania law §§ 3011, 3012. One victim testified that once she “gave in to his advances,” Salsman stopped charging her for legal services he provided for her custody case. This is completely and unequivocally an abuse of Salsman’s power as an attorney and involves one person coercing another person to perform sex acts in exchange for something of value—the statutory definition of sex trafficking. Because Salsman coerced his victims to exchange free legal services for sex, the CSE Institute recommends that the Attorney General’s office look into charging Salmsan with all crimes he committed against the victims, including sex trafficking.
Attorney General Shapiro said “Salsman picked these victims because they didn’t have any other choice, because he thought they would be easy to silence, and less likely to be believed if they ever came forward.” People in positions of power, especially those in the criminal justice system who interact with victims often, can weaponize their knowledge of, connections to, and credibility within the legal system against their victim’s vulnerabilities.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time the CSE Institute has reported on criminal justice professionals abusing their positions of power to sexually exploit individuals. We know that victims of sexual exploitation are already hesitant to seek involvement from law enforcement or legal service providers. Victims fear criminalization, stigmatization, and additional abuse if they engage with the criminal justice system, and rightfully so. Salsman’s abusive, coercive, and exploitative tactics reveal the danger of power going unchecked. Until the criminal justice system works to repair a system that perpetuates the abuse of victims, vulnerable individuals will remain hesitant to involve law enforcement and seek support from the legal system.
We cannot end sexual exploitation without the dedicated efforts from criminal justice stakeholders to properly implement the law, mandate trauma-informed training, and enforce procedures to report suspected abuse. Any official with the power to enforce the law cannot be allowed to use his or her authority to exploit victims by any means. All individuals involved in bringing justice for victims should be insistent upon enforcing polices that are both in line with the law and avoid any further damage to victims who should be able to depend on law enforcement and legal professionals for help. The CSE Institute applauds the efforts of the Attorney General’s office in combating sexual exploitation and working to ensure authority figures who coerce victims, sexually exploit women, and abuse power are held accountable. Importantly, the CSE Institute recognizes the bravery of the five female victims who courageously confronted a sitting District Attorney.
As of February 22, 2021, Salsman pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him. Salsman also waived his right to an appearance for his arraignment and the state will move forward with the prosecution. Salsman, who was elected in 2019, has not resigned from his position as District Attorney. We will continue to monitor this case and post updates as they become publicly available.