In October, a 33-year-old woman was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and prostitution. Allegedly, the woman and a 76-year-old man met and agreed to some kind of sexual activity in exchange for twenty-six dollars. According to the alleged sex buyer, upon entering his apartment, the woman began to smoke methamphetamine, at which point, he claims he informed her that he did not have twenty-six dollars but only had five dollars. Following this announcement, the woman allegedly became violently erratic, whereupon she purportedly obtained a knife and stabbed the male. The available information does not discuss how the alleged sex buyer or the woman separated, who fled the scene first or how the prostituted woman was apprehended. However, the news stories make mention that the man will recover from his stabbing; but they are silent about the recovery of the female.
The CSE Institute does not condone or devalue any act of violence. Persons should not stab persons. Likewise, however, a person should never be commodified at twenty-six dollars, let alone five dollars or any other amount. The news stories underscore with incredulity the meagerness of the amount of money, that the man was stabbed over a discrepancy of only twenty-one dollars; however, they neglect to acknowledge the horror that the man purchased a human being for twenty-six dollars and impliedly tried to buy her for five dollars. “The victim,” they say, “had only five dollars to provide her,” and as a result, the woman being exploited became irate towards the gentleman. Nothing about the buyer’s conduct merits the classification of “gentleman,” and the CSE Institute asks that MSN responsibly use words that comport with the facts. Further, the CSE Institute encourages society and MSN to see two victims in this case, instead of considering only the sex buyer as a victim and demonizing the woman being bought for sex, leading to a story titled “a prostitute high on meth [stabbing] a 76-year-old man.”
The story makes no mention of the possibility that the woman responded with force to the comprehensive violence being perpetrated against her person, and it is nowhere considered that her conduct could, in any way, be self-defense. To MSN and the news media, this woman is just another “prostitute” but, perhaps, to the woman, this man was another abuser. This story has more than one act of violence, and its complexity deserves a comprehensive perspective and response. Furthermore, nothing is mentioned by the news stories that perhaps the prostituted woman resorted to using methamphetamines before engaging in a sex act with the man to numb the gross depravity of a 76-year-old male bartering with her over her worth and exploiting her as an object of his pleasure.
The media reports does not consider the cycle of exploitation and abuse faced by the female victim, beginning when she was just a teenager and was charged for the first time at 18 (for possession of marijuana); perhaps, instead, this is just where her story begins to end, as she has since revolved through the court room dozens of times. We do not know the exploited victim’s story, how she has posted bail as many times as she has, how she has repaid the thousands of dollars of Case Fines to the government; but, we do know that traffickers use this system to post bond and pay for fines in order to debt bond a disenfranchised and vulnerable person for the purposes of maintaining the person in commercial sex exploitation. Exploiting gaps in the criminal justice system, predators are targeting some of the country’s most vulnerable and isolated women, trapping many in an endless loop of criminalization and exploitation. The CSE Institute is not suggesting that the prostituted woman is a victim of trafficking, because not all prostituted people are victims of trafficking; however, the CSE Institute does wish to highlight the possibility of a prostituted person being controlled by a trafficker. The trafficking of a person is both a federal and state crime. The law codifies thirteen ways by which a person may be maintained in sexual servitude, one of which includes debt coercion. This experience is not often considered by society and law enforcement. In this case, the news reports branded the woman as a “prostitute” and never once identified her personhood or questioned how she came to the point of finding herself priced at five dollars.
MSN reports that Westmoreland Police say this may not even be an act of prostitution but an attempted robbery under a prostitution ruse. The CSE Institute is grateful for the help of law enforcement in their efforts to address violence and crime. A man tried to purchase a woman for five dollars—a McDonald’s hamburger is more expensive. The CSE Institute urges law enforcement and criminal justice stakeholders to consider the full economic, social, emotional, psychological and physical trauma this woman has undoubtedly experienced and provide her with the proper services to help break the cycle of exploitation. The CSE Institute asks that the Westmoreland police serve and protect all persons, most especially those who are devalued, discarded, and exploited by society. Further, the prostituted woman’s alleged sex buyer was stabbed does not erase the fact that he is, under law, an offender of a crime—the crime of purchasing sex. Most state penalties for purchasing sex are not nearly reflective of the harm inflicted through purchasing sex.Pennsylvania law criminalizes the purchase of sex under the statute, “Patronizing Prostitutes.” A person commits the offense if that person hires…any other person to engage in sexual activity with him or her. While the woman has been charged with prostitution, the man was not charged for purchasing sex, further devaluing and aggravating the violence inflicted on the woman and society by refusing to address the theft of the woman’s dignity in the act of purchasing another person for sex.
The CSE Institute encourages authorities to focus on pursuing sex buyers who fuel the commercial sex industry. We advocate for the adoption of the Equality Model in the United States to combat commercial sexual exploitation. The Equality Model prioritizes the rights of those who have been exploited while holding buyers and exploiters accountable for the harms they cause. The Equality Model has four key tenants: (1) decriminalize selling sex; (2) criminalize those who purchase sex and facilitate commercial sex transactions; (3) a comprehensive public education campaign about the dangers inherent to prostitution and; (4) a well-funded system to assist those attempting to exit the life. The Equality Model recognizes the comprehensive wound of prostitution and the social determinants that cyclically prevent a person in prostitution from attaining freedom. Until law enforcement and society look at the entire story of violence, we will be committing a robbery ourselves-a robbery of truth and personhood-under the ruse of discussing prostitution.