After several alleged complaints from residents in Philadelphia’s upscale neighborhood: Rittenhouse Square, three women were arrested and charged with prostitution. According to NBC’s interview of a resident of the neighborhood who wished to remain anonymous, several other neighbors had previously complained about men allegedly making frequent visits to the massage parlor, located in an ally-way on one of the neighborhood’s side streets. Residents had also allegedly complained about men mistakenly ringing their door bells while looking for the message parlor.
While the anonymous neighbor was correct to be concerned about the safety of people in her community, the CSE Institute found the safety of the potentially trafficked women to be of equal or greater concern. NBC focused their reporting on shaming the women, showing them on camera being taken out and placed into police cars, rather than focusing on the line of alledged sex buyers coming up to their door every night. It is not surprising that the media reported on alleged prostitution in Rittenhouse Square, but rarely reports on Kensington, a much poorer and popular area for commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking. While community safety is important for police and community watch groups to pay attention to, we would remind those groups that potential victims are also members of our communities we need to look out for them and report on suspected instances of trafficking to appropriate authorities. For instance, if anyone is concerned that people in their community may be involved with or are victims of human trafficking, they should call the National Human Trafficking Hotline number (1-888-373-7888), and the BeFree Textline number (Text HELP to 233733), which both deploy offer assistance to trafficking victims. We would encourage the Philadelphia police and neighborhood watch groups to engage with social service partners throughout all of the City’s neighborhoods to know how potentially prostituted people are often victims, whereas people who buy sex are the true perpetrators. Without the demand for commercial sex, traffickers and brothel owners would go out of business.
The CSE Institute hopes that the Assistant District Attorneys assigned to these women’s cases are able to see how criminalization will not solve the greater issue of commercial sex, and will reach out to us if they would like to learn more about the prosecutor’s role in the fight against sexual exploitation.
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.