On October 5, 2023, detectives in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania arrested and charged Anthony Smith-Sturgis, 29, for attempting to sexually solicit a minor online. Smith-Sturgis believed he was messaging a 14-year-old girl, but in reality, he was communicating with a detective posing as a minor on social media. Smith-Sturgis is facing charges of felony contact with a minor, attempted involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, attempted statutory sexual assault, in addition to other crimes. He is currently being held on $10,000 bail and his preliminary hearing is scheduled for October 19.
On October 4, Smith-Sturgis allegedly started messaging who he believed to be a young girl online, but was actually a Montgomery County detective posing as a 14-year-old on social media. The released exchanges show in his initial message, he said he was a single dad, sous chef, and future massage therapist. He began sending sexually explicit messages to the girl, who then asked if he was “cool” with her being young. The messages reveal that Smith-Sturgis initially assumed the girl was 18, and therefore an adult, but the girl quickly told him that she was not 18.The conversation moved to texts, where the detective posing as the minor told Smith-Sturgis she was 14 years old.
The messages seemingly support allegaions that Smith-Sturgis asked where the two should meet and was directed to East City Avenue. The next day, October 5, Smith-Sturgis arrived at the meeting spot, allegedly “with the intent of having sexual relations with the minor child,” and officers arrested him at the scene. Smith-Sturgis was charged with four sexual offenses under Chapter 31 of Pennsylvania’s criminal code: involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a person under 16 years of age, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault of a complainant less than 16 years of age, and indecent assault of a person less than 16 years of age.
In 2018, Pennsylvania enacted the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Act that made it unequivocally clear that there is “no such thing as a child prostitute.” The Safe Harbor Act created new safeguards for child victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, including creating immunity for certain crimes; directing the Department of Human Services to coordinate specialized services for sexually exploited children, in conjunction with county agencies; and requiring training for law enforcement on how to identify and help victims.
First passed in 2000 and reauthorized six times, the Victims Of Trafficking And Violence Protection Act of 2000, (TVPA), is the cornerstone federal human trafficking legislation. Under the TVPA, the term “severe forms of trafficking in persons” includes sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age. The exclusion of the requirement of “force, fraud, or coercion” to establish that a person under 18 is a victim of trafficking – or rather, the presumption of coercion – coincides with the principal that a child cannot legally consent to sex and makes it clear that under federal law, any child involved in a commercial sex act is a victim.
The CSE Institute commends the collaborative investigative efforts of Montgomery County detectives, Homeland Security, and police from Conshohocken and Lower Merion in this operation to protect minors from commercial sexual exploitation. It is imperative law enforcement proactively attempts to identify predatory offenders online. The CSE Institute applauds these agencies for utilizing their resources to combat the sexual exploitation of minors.
This matter is ongoing and the CSE Institute will continue to provide updates as these matters develop.
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 of Villanova University.