On October 4, 2023, fifteen men were arrested as part of Cumberland County’s OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking. This operation targets hotels and commercial establishments posing as massage parlors. The fifteen men arrested at the Hampden Township Hotel each sought “female escorts” and transacted money for engagement in sexual activity. The fifteen men arrested range in age from twenty years old to seventy four years old. Additionally, thirteen of the fifteen men were Pennsylvania residents, one was from Colorado, and the other was from North Carolina.
The fifteen arrests made in this case were a part of a joint effort from the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office, Hampden Township Police Department, and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. Since 2022, the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office has been running an operation regarding human trafficking, OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking. OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking is a part of a larger scaled operation called, Operation Impact Demand, which targets massage parlors across Cumberland, York, and Dauphin Counties to “identify purportedly legitimate ‘Asian’ massage therapy businesses.” The investigation into these establishments was primarily initiated after law enforcement authorities received several complaints from the public.
Since 2022, the Cumberland County Human Trafficking Task Force has conducted 6 operations as part of Operation Impact Demand. According to DA McCormack, the purpose of these operations is to identify and arrest sex buyers. All profits made by sex traffickers come out of the wallets of those who purchase sex. Sex buyers drive sex trafficking by putting money into the hands of sex traffickers who exploit individuals trapped in the life. Since the start of OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking and operations like it, 60 individuals have been arrested throughout south-central Pennsylvania.
Buying sex and sexual exploitation are interconnected, therefore, law enforcement must employ their resources to target sex buyers, rather than those being exploited in prostitution. Sex trafficking is a market-driven criminal industry that is based on supply and demand. Buyers of commercial sex increase the demand for commercial sex and provide an economic incentive for traffickers, who seek to gain profits by exploiting trafficking victims.
The first arrests made during OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking took place on June 8, 2022, and the six individuals involved received charges for Patronizing Prostitutes. There subsequently have been five more successful sting operation. In this recent Cumberland County human trafficking sting, the fifteen arrests made were the most arrests made during an operation investigation since it commenced in June of 2022.
The CSE commends the efforts of the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office, District Attorney McCormack, Hampden Township Police Department, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, and the investigators on their work to combat commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking by targeting the sex buyers. The Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office has publicly stated its intent to conduct future operations in the county and prosecute sex buyers to the fullest extent of the law. DA McCormack has stated that, “Investigators have found a high demand among individuals who would seek to exploit women remains, . . . [t]his is what attracts human traffickers to our community and this is why we will continue to conduct these operations.” Arresting sex buyers, who seek to exploit vulnerable populations, is a key part of reducing the demand for commercial sexual exploitation. The CSE Institute advocates for the equality model. The four pillars of the equality model are: (1) decriminalizing the person in prostitution, (2) criminalizing sex buyers, (3) educating the public about the inherent harms of prostitution, and (4) providing robust, funded exit services for people in prostitution.
The CSE will continue to monitor this development in Cumberland County and provide updates.
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 Villanova University.