The Pennsylvania State Police Organized Crime Unit worked alongside the Highspire Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations to conduct a joint investigation into an alleged illicit massage business located in Dauphin County. The investigation followed alleged complaints from concerned citizens who told local news reporters they would see customers park in the neighborhood across the street and walk to the massage business past midnight. According to Penn Live, investigators served a search warrant at the business on July 2, 2020. As a result, three women from Flushing, New York, were charged with prostitution.
The District Attorney for Dauphin County, Fran Chardo, told news outlets the indictments in the case had been sealed. Considering the significant amount of human trafficking that takes place in illicit massage businesses, trying to keep the names of potential victims out of the news by sealing the indictments is a responsible decision. However, Penn Live obtained and published the names of the women alleged to have engaged in prostitution. Because the indictments are sealed, The CSE Institute was unable to confirm the charges using the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania’s web portal. Penn Live’s decision to obtain and publish their names will create serious collateral consequences for persons who may later be identified as victims of human trafficking.
The CSE Institute is also disappointed that the law enforcement agencies involved with this investigation focused their attention solely on those alleged to be selling sex, despite concerns from the community about the myriad of customers frequenting the business well into the night. Illicit message businesses would not remain bustling enterprises and hubs for human trafficking if they had no customers. The sex trade and human trafficking are driven by the demand for commercial sex acts. Choosing to ignore the criminal conduct of the sex buyers who frequent illicit massage businesses does absolutely nothing to prevent human trafficking, and instead, emboldens both sex buyers and sex traffickers to continue flouting the law. In sharp contrast, criminalizing those who sell sex deepens the already pervasive mistrust between trafficking victims and law enforcement. Criminal charges also make it more difficult for victims to leave their traffickers and obtain a stable means of employment. So far, this case presents nothing but a missed opportunity to thoughtfully address commercial sexual exploitation to the detriment of three sexually exploited women.