Economics has long supported the theory that demand drives supply. The same principal is true with respect to human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Traffickers sell women and girls for sex because they recognize what a lucrative market the commercial sex industry is; women’s bodies—in a form submissive to men’s sexual desires—are commodities in high demand. The most effective way to end sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, is to eliminate the demand for commercial sex—those who purchase sex.
Buying sex is a crime in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania codified at 18 Pa. C.S. § 5902(e) patronizing prostitutes. Until recently, however, sex buyers—who are often given the name “johns”—have frequently remained free from arrest and prosecution, most likely because of the pervasive “boys will be boys” mentality. Instead, law enforcement focused policing efforts on arresting those who sell sex or are sold for sex – the prostituted person. However, law enforcement is becoming more educated about human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation and the reality that many prostituted persons are not willingly participants, but rather being sold for sex by traffickers. Furthermore, recent changes to state (18 Pa. C.S. §§ 3011 and 3012) and federal legislation (18 U.S.C. § 1591) have codified that those who purchase victims of human trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion, or anyone under the age of 18 for sex, can be prosecuted as a trafficker.
As a result, law enforcement throughout the Commonwealth have begun to investigate, arrest, and prosecute purchasers of sex. During an under-cover prostitution sting, a police officer poses as a prostituted person and arranges a deal with a potential buyer. Law enforcement then steps in and arrests and the sex buyer. Recently, both Lancaster County and Luzerne County have been in the news for cracking down on demand through prostitution stings.
On May 26, 2016, Lancaster County law enforcement conducted a sting and arrested 12 men on solicitation charges. That same weekend, in Luzerne County, law enforcement also conducted a prostitution sting. Four men were arrested and charged with patronizing a prostitute.
Who are these men that are purchasing sex? Among those arrested in the Lancaster sting were: Mark Ellerison, 42, who already had a statutory sexual assault conviction and is a registered sex offender under Megan’s Law; Peter Long, 39, a Catholic school basketball coach; and Richard Brenton, 54 a high school social studies teacher at Penn Manor High School.
This brings up a related conversation: how should employers respond to their employees’ arrests for buying sex? While private employers will have more discretion in their choice of response, state and local government employers, should seek to send a message regarding Pennsylvania’s stance with respect to trafficking. The public high school, for example, is a local government employer. So far, the school has said, “Mr. Brenton has not been in the classroom since his arrest on Thursday, May 26, and is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the school district. Mr. Brenton is currently on paid leave until the administration has an opportunity to meet with him.”
The CSE Institute is advocating for Pennsylvania to enact a policy similar to the zero tolerance policy of Commonwealth of Massachusetts with respect to buying sex. Massachusetts’ policy prohibits “state and city employees—and state-funded contractors—from advancing human trafficking, which includes the illegal purchase of sex.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey stated in a press release on April 19, 2016 announcing the implementation of the policy, “Human trafficking, whether through commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor, is a real and growing issue in Massachusetts. As some of the state’s largest employers, we are making clear through these policies that we have zero tolerance for this kind of activity. We encourage other agencies and businesses to take similar measures to help fight this problem.”
In the same press release, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is quoted saying, “We must aggressively target the drivers of human trafficking to ensure this horrific practice is eliminated in the Commonwealth and our society as whole. I am pleased to announce our administration’s commitment to enforce a zero tolerance policy for our employees regarding human trafficking and we remain committed to enacting strict reforms to target the sources of human trafficking.”
Pennsylvania has already come a long way with respect to efforts to end trafficking—from shifting policing practices, to codification of new legislation. We commend both the Lancaster and Luzerne County Police Departments for actively targeting the demand in their counties. It is time we take the next step in the fight to end demand for commercial sexual exploitation by adopting a zero tolerance policy on the part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania employers. If potential sex buyers have this additional consequence to buying sex, perhaps they will be deterred. The CSE Institute urges Governor Wolf to adopt a zero tolerance policy with respect to state employees who purchase sex to send a clear message that purchasing sex is not “normal” or acceptable in Pennsylvania and will not be tolerated.