On August 31, 2018, Pittsburgh police reported that, throughout the month of August, 27 people were arrested for patronizing prostitution, 12 people were arrested for prostitution, and one person was arrested for promoting prostitution. These arrests were made during the 16th National Johns Suppression Initiative (“NJSI”), which ran from July 18th to August 22nd, and included efforts from 23 other law-enforcement agencies across 12 states.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, these arrests were made in response to a recent increase in sex trafficking in the Pittsburgh area. Community leaders have credited the increase in sex trafficking to both the growing opioid addiction and the increase in local fracking. The rationale is that opioid addiction has created a “supply” in that more people are engaging in commercial for either drugs themselves or money for drugs, while fracking has created a “demand” by bringing in workers from outside the region who then purchase sex.
Following the arrests, City Narcotics and Vice Commander Reyne Kacsuta was quoted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette stating: “It was important for us to participate in this initiative because our goal was to locate victims of sex trafficking and be responsive to complaints from our neighborhood residents.” While the concern to locate victims is commendable, arresting those who have been sexually exploited does not advance the interests of the city of Pittsburgh, nor does it speak to the heart of the NJSI. NJSI targets sex buyers and traffickers in an effort to reduce the demand for prostitution and bring the true offenders to justice. The initiative was also initiated to address the disproportionate number of arrests between prostituted persons and sex buyers and traffickers. Prior to the inception of NJSI, the Bureau of Justice statistics showed a devastating disparity in the number of those arrested for selling sex and those arrested for buying sex. Thus, there is a fundamental flaw in arresting victims to satisfy the goal of NJSI.
While Kacsuta rightfully states that the Pittsburgh police play a critical role in being “responsive to complaints from our neighborhood residents,” the purpose of NJSI is profoundly undermined when the wrong individuals are arrested. It is not enough to take prostituted persons off the street; law enforcement has a duty to go beyond neighborhood complaints and take into account who they are arresting.
The CSE Institute applauds the Pittsburgh police for targeting those who buy sex. However, we would like to remind law enforcement that prostituted persons are best served through interventions with social services and exit strategies rather than criminal records. The CSE Institute is further encouraged that there is a comprehensive effort under the National Johns Suppression Initiative to target sex traffickers and sex buyers so that demand can be reduced. As advocates of the Nordic Model, we support criminalizing and targeting those who purchase sex rather than those being exploited for sex. We hope that law enforcement agencies continue to recognize that commercial sexual exploitation begins and ends with demand, and that targeting the victims will not deter this cycle of abuse.
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 Villanova University.