Scranton, Pa

Holistic Changes Needed to Combat Human Trafficking in Lehigh County

Posted: December 2, 2016

Recently in Allentown, the Morning Call reported the arrest of three women on drug related charges, one of whom has also been charged with promoting prostitution. The police were investigating allegations of prostitution and had used an ad on the website to find the women. Learn more about and pending litigation.

We have three recommendations for future police responses to allegations of criminal activity involving prostitution. Since traffickers and sex buyers use and related sites to solicit prostituted persons, law enforcement should use it as a tool for finding those very same traffickers and sex buyers. Many women who engage in prostitution are not doing so willingly; they are frequently being exploited. Processessing prostituted persons through the criminal justice system does not solve the central issues of the demand for commercial sex, nor does it assist in the restoration of victims of sexual exploitation. Quite simply, as long as there is demand for commercial sex, then there will be supply. Our first recommendation is that law enforcement utilize the statutes in the Pennsylvania crimes code and enforce the law for those who buy sex (18 Pa. C.S. §§ 5902(e), 3012, 3013.

All three of the prostituted persons in this case were charged with heroin possession. The opioid crisis that is gripping far too many communities in the United States is described as an epidemic – a national health scare. Epidemics require treatment and care to cure. Treatment through the criminal justice system may not be the most appropriate system to provide proper care. Situations involving prostituted persons should actually heighten the need for care because traffickers often use drug addiction, and heroin in particular, as a method of force and coercion ver prostituted persons. 18 Pa. C.S. § 3012(b)(12)(citing chemical dependency as a possible means of coercion). Prostituted persons are susceptible to substance abuse as a means of escape from their trauma. Traffickers in turn use the drug dependency and trauma to keep prostituted persons under their control. Law enforcement must become more aware and cognizant of these facts. Therefore, our second recommendation is that law enforcement help direct prostituted persons found using illegal substances to drug treatment and recovery services.

Third, it does not appear as though law enforcement screened the prostituted persons for signs of human trafficking or sexual exploitation. Law enforcement and prosecutors must ensure that they conduct basic screenings to check for signs of human trafficking and sexual exploitation during sting operations that are based on information of prostitution gathered online, especially when the source is It is evident that the internet is being utilized as the new street corner for traffickers to advertise prostituted persons and sex buyers looking to buy sex. Our third recommendation, therefore, is that law enforcement take active steps to identify victims of trafficking, recognize the signs of trafficking, and recognize victim protections like those codified in 18 Pa. C.S. § 3052.

We applaud the tremendous work being done by the Lehigh County law enforcement and District Attorney’s office in working to hold offenders of sex trafficking accountable. We recommend the next steps be taken in this fight – to create meaningful and holistic changes to the response to prostitution cases in Lehigh County in order to assist the victims in their recovery and restoration.


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