On September 7, officers of the Upper Merion Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit arrested two individuals. One woman was taken into custody for investigation of an outstanding warrant and Rushane Davis-Morgan was arrested for promoting prostitution. The investigation began while officers were conducting proactive patrols around the Motel 6 on West Dekalb Pike when they learned of suspected prostitution activity at the motel. After setting up surveillance, the officers came into contact with the woman, who had been dropped off in the parking lot by an “unknown male,” later identified as Davis-Morgan. The woman told officers she was at the motel to meet a male for sex, and they took her into custody after determining she had an active arrest warrant for a previous drug arrest by UMPD.
While the investigation of the female was ongoing, detectives turned to investigate the vehicle that dropped off the woman and then parked in the lot of the motel. As they approached, the male driver fled the scene on foot. The man was found hiding in the first-floor bathroom of the King of Prussia Mall. Before the officers could contact him, they heard the toilet flushing, leading them to believe the man was discarding drug evidence. He was taken into custody and identified as Davis-Morgan. UMPD SIU Investigators uncovered evidence that directly tied him to the woman’s prostitution. He was charged with promoting prostitution, fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, and related offenses.
The CSE Institute encourages Montgomery County to look further into the nuances of the situation to determine if human trafficking charges are appropriate. First, while the facts support the man’s promoting prostitution charge, we encourage law enforcement to use Pennsylvania’s human trafficking statute. This statute defines trafficking in individuals as a felony of the first degree when a person recruits, entices, solicits, advertises, harbors, transports, provides, obtains or maintains an individual if the person knows or recklessly disregards that the individual will be subject to sexual servitude. It is also a felony of the first degree if the person knowingly benefits financially or receives anything of value from any act that facilitates any activity described above. In this case, the man was seen transporting the woman to the motel for the purposes of her prostitution. Moreover, Investigators have evidence directly connecting the man to the prostitution of this woman. These facts support charging this man under the Pennsylvania human trafficking statute if one of the 13 factors set forth in 18 Pa.C.S. 3012(b) can be met.
Second, the CSE Institute is hopeful that the woman will be given services rather than prosecuted for any charges related to her sexual exploitation. The practice of prosecuting people who are bought and sold for sex perpetuates the harmful notion that people in prostitution are criminals rather than people who are exploited. It enhances the traumatization and stigmatization of an already traumatized and stigmatized population and creates even more barriers for victims attempting to exit “the life.” A single criminal conviction can serve as a massive barrier to stable employment, housing opportunities, immigration opportunities, federal student loans, and more.
Accordingly, we encourage law enforcement to recognize the vicious cycle of trauma, addiction, and exploitation. In this case, the woman’s criminal history suggests she may be suffering from substance use disorder. Victims of trafficking often use substances to cope with or dissociate from their reality. A report found that 84% of exploited women used drugs, alcohol, or both during their exploitation. Additionally, addiction is often exploited by traffickers who manipulate victims into continued prostitution in exchange for promised substances. Any “choice” made under these circumstances is no choice at all. On the other hand, sex buyers always have the choice to not purchase sex and further the exploitation of an already vulnerable population.
Lastly, the CSE Institute encourages law enforcement to hold sex buyers accountable for the exploitation they demand. Charging people with prostitution does nothing to eradicate the sex trade. It is the traffickers and buyers who perpetuate sexual exploitation and keep the commercial sex trade alive. The CSE Institute advocates for the Equality Model to combat commercial sexual exploitation. The Equality Model seeks to reduce the demand for commercial sex by criminalizing sex buyers and traffickers and decriminalizing prostituted people. The four pillars of the Equality Model are: (1) decriminalization of the person who is selling sex, (2) criminalization of sex buyers and facilitators, (3) educating the public about the harms of prostitution, and (4) funded, holistic exit services for victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
Combatting human trafficking requires an effort to identify and support victims, not arrest victims. We hope that law enforcement will use their power to do justice for victims, rather than perpetuate their criminalization.
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.