On April 12, 2023, Terris Williams, 36 of Elmsford, New York, was charged with Trafficking in Individuals, Promoting Prostitution, Unlawful Conduct Regarding Documents, and Criminal Use of a Communication Facility. The eighteen-year-old victim in this case has been transported to safety and provided with exit services by victim advocates. Williams’ preliminary hearings, a proceeding in which the government must prove that a crime occurred and that the defendant was more likely than not the individual who committed the crime, is scheduled for June 1, 2023.
Members of the Berks County Human Trafficking Task Force worked with the Allentown branch of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to arrest Williams. HSI contacted Berks County Human Trafficking Task Force after locating an online advertisement for sex. An undercover officer allegedly contacted Williams through the advertisement and set up a time to meet.
The individual trafficked by Williams met undercover officers in a vehicle, and Williams allegedly contacted her and instructed her to exit the vehicle. Police then met Williams inside his hotel room where they discovered “a large number of condoms, female lingerie, two cell phones, and over $4,000 in U.S. currency.” Allegedly, Williams was also found with the victim’s state issued identification.
The CSE Institute notes that hotels and motels are among the most common venues for sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. The CSE Institute urges the hospitality industry to stop turning a blind eye to this problem and develop tangible solutions. These solutions could include mandatory training for all employees to help them recognize the signs of sex trafficking and what to do if they suspect trafficking. The CSE Institute recognizes the need for legislation that would require these types of trainings, policies, and procedures to be implemented in every hotel and motel across the country.
The CSE Institute commends the Berks County District Attorney’s Office, the Allentown Branch of Homeland Security Investigations, and the Berks County Human Trafficking Taskforce (which consists of members from the Berks County District Attorney’s Office Detective Unit, Spring Township Police Department, Wyomissing Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations- Allentown Office (HSI), and Zoe International for their efforts in investigating and arresting these suspects and providing services to the victim. The CSE Institute also applauds Berks County District Attorney John Adams for charging Williams and for not releasing the name of the trafficking victim. Again, by targeting the demand of sex buyers, law enforcement officials are targeting the root cause of sexual exploitation.
The CSE Institute specifically advocates for the Equality Model and supports law enforcement targeting demand in the sex trade. The four key elements of the equality model are (1) decriminalization of persons in prostitution; (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 decriminalization of people in prostitution recognizes that people being bought and sold for sex are victims being exploited, rather than criminals worthy of punishment.
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.