Between September 14th and September 16th eleven men and one woman were arrested for prostitution and additional drug related charges as a result of a collaborative operation to uncover human trafficking orchestrated by the Worcester County Criminal Enforcement Team, Maryland State Police, and Homeland Security Investigators. The operation was designed to target individuals who solicit prostituted people as a means to deter human trafficking in Ocean City. Many of the defendants arrested during the operation came from surrounding states such as Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
In order to lure potential sex buyers into the hands of law enforcement, fake ads selling sex were posted online. According to DelmarVANow some of the online ads read, “Bike Weekend”. Those who responded to the advertisements allegedly agreed to pay $100 for half an hour of sexual favors. Some responders even agreed to sell drugs to the prostituted people they assumed they were meeting. Another ad was posted Craigslist and stated, “Bike Week Beauty” as its title. Two men responded to the ad and agreed to pay $40 and $30 each for sexual favors. Other ads advertised “Bike Week Beth,” “Late Night Fun,” “Tail Pipe Peaches,” and “LET US RIDE – WFM (OC)”. Investigators also found ads from potential prostituted people on sites like Backpage.com. One ad from Backpage.com in particular was titled, “Alexa Dream” where the advertiser said they would accept “roses”, common slang term for money as payment for their time, i.e. sex. Sadly, the woman found in connection to this advertisement was then arrested and charged with prostitution.
According to court documents, many of the charges stemming from this investigation are misdemeanors. The CSE Institute commends the Ocean City Police Department on focusing their investigation on the sex buyers rather than charging the prostituted persons. By implementing reverse sting operations, and utilizing multiple law enforcement agencies’ resources, the harms of human trafficking can be better addressed through a demand-focused lens . We are encouraged to see other states’ law enforcement appropriately tackling the legal hurdles of human trafficking and hope the efforts of the Worcester County Criminal Enforcement Team, Maryland State Police, and Homeland Security Investigators send a message of hope to prostituted victims and deterrence to buyers of sex. However, the CSE Institute is disappointed to see that this sting operation did include the arrest of a prostituted person. We would encourage the Worcester County Criminal Enforcement Team, Maryland State Police, and Homeland Security Investigators to focus their efforts on ending the demand for buying sex instead of penalizing the prostituted people who are often victims of traffickers and sex buyers. While this sting appears to be an overall success for law enforcement, there are always ways law enforcement can improve their efforts to end human trafficking.
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.