Scranton, Pa

Mercer County Police Raid Three Massage Parlors Based on Suspicions of Promoting Prostitution

Posted: January 25, 2023

On January 18th, after an anonymous tip, Mercer County police raided three different massage businesses based on suspicions of prostitution and solicitation. There have been no arrests yet, but the businesses are under investigation and the Mercer District Attorney, Peter Acker, expects charges to be filed soon. While this story is developing, the CSE Institute urges Mercer County to utilize its resources to investigate the individual who allegedly owns all three businesses and the patrons of the businesses seeking to buy sex, rather than the employees.

Illicit massage businesses are common throughout Pennsylvania and provide a venue for sex buyers. Other common venues for sex buyers include hotels, strip clubs, recreational facilities, and residential brothels.  Victims of the illicit massage business are often immigrants of Eastern Asian descent, which allows for their victimization and exploitation, forcing them into the sex trade. Notably, victims in these businesses are often promised different work and quality of life, and then trapped in a different reality where they are treated as fetishized commodities. The complicated intersections of race, ethnicity, immigration, and class vulnerabilities often prevent victims of trafficking from coming forward due to fear of prosecution.

Pennsylvania criminalizes the promotion and solicitation of prostitution and some counties are starting to take steps to investigate these illicit massage businesses. Specifically, Bucks County has recently adopted an ordinance that targets establishments promoting prostitution through illicit massage businesses. As Mercer County continues its investigation, the CSE Institute urges law enforcement and the district attorney’s office to work with local municipalities to adopt a similar ordinance that targets those businesses and establishments promoting prostitution, while simultaneously supporting victims. Further, by focusing investigatory efforts on sex buyers in the area, Mercer County law enforcement can disrupt the market demand for commercial sex.

The CSE Institute commends the efforts of the Mercer County Police Department for their investigative efforts.  However, it is important that law enforcement understands it is essential to arrest sex buyers to reduce commercial sexual exploitation. The CSE Institute supports the Equality Model to combat commercial sexual exploitation. Commercial sexual exploitation has decreased in countries where the Equality Model has been implemented.  The Equality Model consists of four key elements: (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 directly 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. Furthermore, the decriminalization of people in prostitution recognizes those who are bought and sold for sex as exploited, not as perpetrators of a crime.

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 the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.

Category: News

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