On December 15, 2023, Dante Lashawn Cole, 39, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh for sex trafficking of a child. If convicted, the federal charge provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and up to life in prison, a fine of up to 250,000 dollars, or both. Assistant United States Attorney Rob Schupansky and Special Assistant United States Attorney Summer Carroll are prosecuting the case.
In May 2023, Cole allegedly transported a minor female victim from Ohio to a hotel in Monroeville, Pennsylvania to engage in commercial sex acts. From April 2023 to October 2023, Cole allegedly used online advertisements to market the minor for commercial sex in Western Pennsylvania. With assistance from the Northeast Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, Cole was taken into custody at his home in Ohio. The minor was found partially nude in an upstairs bedroom.
U.S. Attorney Eric G. Olshan commented on this indictment by stating that, “[t]his defendant allegedly offered for sale the sexual exploitation of a child—an egregious violation of the innocent. Along with our partners in federal, state, and local law enforcement, we will continue our work to identify, investigate, and bring to justice those who pursue profit through sex trafficking of minors. We implore anyone who knows or suspects that a minor may be the victim of sex trafficking to contact law enforcement.”
Under Federal law, a person is guilty of trafficking if they recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, advertise, maintain, patronize, or solicit a person for a commercial sex act. To be charged with sex trafficking of a child, the prosecution must only prove that the defendants engaged in soliciting, enticing, harboring, obtaining, patronizing, or transporting a minor who is or will be subject to sexual servitude. If the victim is a minor, the Government does not need to prove the defendant knew or recklessly disregarded the victim’s age. Under both Federal and State law, any commercial sexual exploitation of minors constitutes sex trafficking because children cannot consent to sex.
The Department of Homeland Security Investigations and the Attorney General’s Office brought this case under Project Safe Childhood, an initiative designed to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse. Project Safe Childhood was initiated in May of 2006 by the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice identifies the five essential components of Project Safe Childhood as building partnerships; coordinating law enforcement; training Project Safe Childhood partners; public awareness; and accountability. Through the initiative, the Department of Justice aims to coordinate and cooperate with federal, tribal, state, local, and international organizations to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.
The CSE Institute commends the work of the Department of Homeland Security and the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General for their diligent work on this case and securing an indictment. The CSE Institute is encouraged to see law enforcement and prosecutors dedicated to targeting the demand of sex buyers, the root cause of sexual exploitation.
The CSE Institute advocates for the Equality Model. 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 calls for a law enforcement to directly target the demand for buying sex by criminalizing sex buyers and traffickers, while decriminalizing those who are bought and sold for commercial sex. 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 provide further updates on this matter.
All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or Villanova University.