On August 31, 2023, Cumberland County law enforcement authorities arrested and charged Min Dong, 54, of Camp Hill, with multiple counts of Operating a Corrupt Organization, Dealing in Unlawful Proceeds, Prostitution, and Trafficking in Persons. Dong is currently being held in Cumberland County Prison on $250,000 bail.
The Cumberland County Human Trafficking Task Force executed search warrants at after receiving several complaints from the public. This operation, OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking, was conducted to identify supposedly legitimate massage parlors in Cumberland, York, and Dauphin Counties that were operating as fronts for labor and sex trafficking. The targeted ten parlors across the three counties; however, it was discovered that the five Cumberland County parlors were all connected to Dong.
OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking is a part of a year-long investigation into human trafficking throughout south-central Pennsylvania. The has conducted five operations as a part of a larger operation called “Impact Demand.” The purpose of the latter is to identify and arrest sex buyers who maintain the demand for commercial sex. Cumberland County District Attorney, Seán McCormack, reported that, since the commencement of Impact Demand, 45 individuals have been arrested.
Over the course of Operation Impact Demand, the Cumberland County Trafficking Task Force obtained evidence to confirm that traffickers were placing individuals into local massage parlors to engage in sexual acts as part of a sprawling labor and sex trafficking scheme. Law enforcement authorities were allegedly able to connect certain individuals arrested during Operation Impact Demand to multiple massage parlors that were targeted in OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking. All five parlors were shut down on the day of the searches, however, two of the businesses have already reopened.
Illicit massage parlors are common throughout Pennsylvania and provide a venue for commercial sexual exploitation. The women who are trafficked in illicit massage businesses are typically immigrants from China or South Korea and are . Victims in these businesses are promised work opportunities and a better quality of life but are then trapped in a cycle of cultural manipulation, fraud, and coercion. The complex vulnerabilities associated with race, ethnicity, immigration, and class often prevent victims of exploitation from immediately self-identifying as trafficking victims to law enforcement or service providers.
It is imperative that law enforcement authorities throughout the country understand that persons in prostitution should not be arrested during investigations that target the sex trade. Alternatively, law enforcement should focus on prosecuting sex buyers to decrease the demand. Since the sex trade relies on supply and demand, prostitution would not occur without sex buyers. Buying sex and sexual exploitation are interconnected. Therefore, law enforcement must utilize their resources to target sex buyers, rather than those being exploited in prostitution.
The CSE Institute supports the Equality Model to combat commercial sexual exploitation. The Equality Model focuses on criminal justice reform by decriminalizing those who are bought and sold for sex and criminalizing sex buyers. The Equality Model includes four key tenets: (1) decriminalization of the prostituted person, (2) criminalization of sex buyers and facilitators with a commitment to treating buying sex as a serious crime, (3) a public education campaign about the inherent harms of prostitution, and (4) funded, robust, holistic exit services for victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The Equality Model targets the demand for buying sex by criminalizing sex buyers and traffickers, while decriminalizing the people who are being bought and sold for commercial sex. Moreover, the decriminalization of prostituted persons recognizes that those who are bought and sold for sex are exploited, not perpetrators of a crime.
The CSE Institute commends the efforts of the Cumberland County Trafficking Task Force, DA McCormack, and investigators on their work to target sex buyers and support survivors of sexual exploitation. As part of the operation, the task force partnered with local community programs dedicated to providing resources to help survivors of labor and sex trafficking. Additionally, DA McCormack stressed the differences between the parlors that were the target of the searches conducted during OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking and legitimate massage therapy businesses. The current pervasiveness of corporate secrecy facilitates the ongoing manipulation and exploitation of victims in illicit massage parlors. Thus, more robust legal regulations are needed to create stronger corporate transparency.
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 Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.