On April 19, 2023, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Michelle Henry, announced the filing of criminal charges against Joseph Pulizzi for operating a human trafficking ring across multiple Pennsylvania counties, including Cumberland, Dauphin, Perry, and York. Pulizzi has been charged with multiple offenses, including felony counts of trafficking, involuntary servitude, and aggravated assault.
The trafficker used the website “Skip the Games” to recruit and deceive women. Pulizzi used the website to post pictures of women without their consent and would advertise them for sex without their knowledge. Skip the Games is a website that advertises connecting “consenting adults” with adult services in their local area. There is little information about the group who started the website, but the “About” section of their website claims “Skipthegames.com is run by a bunch of open-minded people, who believe in privacy, friendliness and the right for consenting adults to do what they want with each other.” Yet, the website exclusively promotes sex and has been involved in multiple cases of trafficking or prostitution in Pennsylvania alone, including the case against Pulizzi.
After a Grand Jury Investigation, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General discovered that Pulizzi had exploited at least seven victims, all of whom were suffering some sort of hardship like substance abuse or experiencing homelessness. Some of the victims testified that Pulizzi had used threats of violence to trap them, making them feel like they had to continue to work for him, with nowhere else to turn. The victims also testified that they didn’t feel safe reaching out to law enforcement due to the illicit nature of the activities they were forced to perform.
Pulizzi used these hardships to exploit the victims’ vulnerable positions by offering them significant amounts of money or housing in return for sexual acts. Instead of following through on his promises, he put the women in hotels or temporary houses and forced them into paid sexual acts, without giving them the full proceeds of those acts. When he did ‘pay’ these women, he would only give them enough for necessities like food and hygiene products. This case illustrates how traffickers exploit the most vulnerable in our society and force them into the sex trade for their own personal gain, making it difficult for victims to exit the sex trade or seek support. In response to a request for a comment, Senior Deputy Attorney General, Heather Castellino, noted,
“This case, like all sex trafficking cases, is about greed and control. The defendant is charged with taking advantage of various vulnerabilities of many young women for his own profit. Without the bravery of the survivors telling their stories we would not be able to hold these predators accountable. It is unfortunately too easy for traffickers to commit these despicable crimes but the more we understand what sex trafficking is and why it happens the sooner we can hold them responsible.”
After a joint investigation with the Office of Attorney General, the Pennsylvania State Police and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Pulizzi was arrested and remanded to Dauphin County Jail without bail. The CSE Institute commends the investigative teamwork across different offices that led to Pulizzi’s arrest. The CSE Institute encourages these offices to continue their investigative efforts. Further, it is important that law enforcement understands that those who engage in commercial sex do so as means of survival. This is in sharp contrast to those who choose to buy sex, who are instead using their privileged economic status to gain access to the body of another. As such, law enforcement offices must target sex buyers and criminally penalize them. Further, police must keep a watchful eye on dangerous sites like Skip the Games, where sex buyers have unfettered access to persons who may be forced to sell sex against their will.
The CSE Institute will continue to provide updates on this matter.
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.