On July 2, Pittsburgh police arrested seven people during an undercover investigation into prostitution related activity at a downtown hotel. According to the Post Gazette, undercover officers set up an advertisement on an escort website and immediately began receiving calls and messages. Joseph McHenry and Erich Maine answered the advertisement and agreed to pay for sex with cash. Both men were charged with possessing instruments of crime and 2 counts patronizing prostitutes. Jordan Scott allegedly agreed to have sex with three women in exchange for heroin, which he allegedly had on his person upon arrival at the hotel. He is being charged with criminal use of a communication facility, possession with intent to deliver, patronizing prostitutes, and possession. A man from Philadelphia was handed drug and prostitution charges after allegedly agreeing to perform sex acts for money and having ecstasy, marijuana, and cocaine in his possession.
Two men and one woman were criminally charged after arriving together at the hotel after undercover detectives communicated with them online. Kevin Fowler allegedly told police he facilitated the transportation to the hotel. He was charged with three counts of promoting prostitution and prohibited acts. According to his public court summary, his criminal history includes 2018 charges for simple assault and harassment, as well as two charges for disorderly conduct in 2016. The other man was charged with prostitution, criminal use of a communication facility, possession, and possession with intent to deliver. According to his public court summary, his criminal history includes a handful of retail theft charges. The woman was charged with prostitution and possessing instruments of crime. According to her public court summary, she has been charged with prostitution and related offenses three times before, as well as two additional nonviolent offenses. Of these three individuals, all of whom have criminal histories, the prostituted woman was the only one of the trio to have bail set ($20,000), while the others appear to have been released on their own recognizance.
The CSE Institute is glad to see officers in Pittsburgh engaging in undercover investigations that at least partially target the demand for commercial sex. These types of investigations are vital to driving down the market for commercial sex, while also criminalizing those with the most culpability – those who buy sex . Despite changes in public perception about who engages in commercial sex and why, there is still a vast amount of stigma attached to prostituted persons. This stigma should, instead, be shifted to the persons who use their excess money and privilege to purchase another human being for their own sexual desires, as well as to third party facilitators who profit from it. We condemn criminalizing prostituted persons and hope arresting agencies continue to, or begin, solely targeting those who buy sex.
We are also concerned about the prevalence of charging these defendants with possessing instruments of a crime in conjunction with prostitution related offenses. In the past, authorities in Allegheny County came under fire for charging prostituted persons with possessing instruments of a crime for having condoms on their person. Critics pointed to the obvious public health concerns this policy created, and Allegheny County ultimately announced they would discontinue the counterproductive practice. However, the superintendent of police for Allegheny County indicated they were still open to charging possessing instruments of a crime for cellphones used to arrange commercial sex transactions. This is equally problematic, as cellphones are a vital lifeline for prostituted persons who are under constant threat of violence. Criminalizing prostituted persons for having condoms or cellphones is a backwards practice that does nothing to curb commercial sexual exploitation. Such a policy only serves to endanger prostituted persons and, if currently being implemented, should be discontinued immediately.
All viewed 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.