In February 2023, police officers working on the Northampton County Drug Task Force, along with Pennsylvania State Police, and the FBI, arrested three women and charged them with prostitution. The women were arrested in three separate massage parlors in Northampton County. All three women were arraigned on misdemeanor prostitution charges and were sent to Northampton County Jail in lieu of paying $2500 bail each. The woman arrested in Hellertown has been released on bail.
In Hellertown, an undercover law enforcement officer entered LAX Massage for a 30-minute massage appointment. Detective Michael Dattilo explained that the officer, “provided a predetermined signal that solicitation for services of a sexual nature were offered for monetary compensation during the visit.” At this point, additional law enforcement entered the business and detained the 67-year-old woman. This woman lived in the massage parlor, which is not properly outfitted for residential or overnight occupancy.
In Lower Nazareth Township, an undercover law enforcement officer entered Kim’s Spa and paid $70 in exchange for a massage. Before additional law enforcement entered the business and arrested the woman, the officer stated that the 53-year-old woman agreed to perform sexual acts for $100
In Nazareth, an undercover law enforcement officer entered New Green Spa and paid $70 for a massage. The officer was led to a back room and was solicited to receive a sex act for an additional $60. After the money was exchanged, the undercover officer arrested the 56-year-old woman.
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. The women sold for sex in 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 exploitation from coming forward due to fear of prosecution.
The CSE Institute commends the efforts of the Northampton County Drug Task Force, the Pennsylvania State Police, and the FBI for their investigative efforts. However, it is imperative that law enforcement understands that persons in prostitution should not be arrested during investigations to end the sex trade. Instead, law enforcement should focus on prosecuting sex buyers to decrease demand. The sex trade is a market-based system that relies on supply and demand. Prostitution would not occur without sex buyers, who are the demand that drives the sex trade. Buying sex and sexual exploitation are inherently linked. Thus, to target the root of sexual exploitation, law enforcement must use their resources and efforts to target sex buyers rather than those being exploited in prostitution.
The CSE Institute supports the Equality Model to combat commercial sexual exploitation. The Equality model centers on restructuring the criminal justice system by decriminalizing those who are bought and sold for sex and focuses on the criminalization of sex buyers. 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.