On September 20, 2017, Bruce Anthony “Cash” Steele, a ruthless human trafficker, was sentenced to 5 ½ to 11 years in State prison following 7 years of probation for various human trafficking offenses. According to court records, the defendant was originally charged with 47 different offenses, and the ultimately pled guilty to Trafficking Individuals (a felony of the second degree), Involuntary Servitude (a felony of the first degree), and Manufacture, Delivery, or Possession with Intent to Manufacture or Deliver cocaine and heroin (an ungraded felony).
According to Assistant District Attorney, Matthew Brittenburg, the defendant controlled his victims through the fear of violence or the withholding of drugs as an act of coercion. For example, if the victims did not meet their expected profits from sexual acts, he would physically abuse them or prevent them from accessing the controlled substances they were severely addicted to due to Steele’s controlling means. Traffickers deliberately use physical and sexual violence, along with coercing victims into using drug use in order to keep them compliant and under their control. Two brave survivors chose to testify against the defendant’s violent and abusive actions at the defendant’s sentencing, but ADA Brittenburg stated that many others were too fearful to confront their trafficker. In fact, ADA Brittenburg noted that the “psychological effect the defendant had on his victims was so significant that one of the victims who initially told the assigned Detective that she did not want to testify at the sentencing hearing actually showed up and testified on behalf of the defendant claiming that the defendant helped her, counseled her to get off drugs and did not use physical violence.” However, ADA Brittenburg “pointed out that she had given prior statements about the defendant’s use of controlled substances” and violence to control him victims and that there was no evidence that “the defendant ever assisted any one of his victims to get sober.”
The defendant’s defense attorney, was unsuccessful in portraying the defendant as a man who looked after troubled women by offering them food, shelter, and helping them with their drug addiction. However, the testimony of the survivors who were trafficked by the defendant helped shine light on the truth about the defendant’s abhorrent actions of making victims perform sexual acts for money, controlling when they could leave the house, taking away any personal identification cards, and supplying and withholding heroin and cocaine.
The CSE Institute is encouraged to see counties like Montgomery County and District Attorneys like ADA Brittenburg utilizing a victim-centered approach to building their prosecutions, understanding that prostituted people are victims, and their traffickers, including pimps and sex buyers are the perpetrators who should be criminalized. Additionally, we hope that we will see more demand focused prosecution throughout Pennsylvania in order to help provide justice to victims and survivors of human trafficking – without the demand for commercial sex, traffickers would go out of business. The CSE Institute would also like to recognize the brave survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, those who do choose to testify against the people who buy and sell them, and those who decide not to. There is still so much we can continue to learn from their bravery and we hope their voices will provide encouragement and empower more survivors to come forward.
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.