Scranton, Pa

Pittsburgh Police “Cracking Down” on Drugs and Prostitution

Posted: August 4, 2023

According to a July 28, 2023 report from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh police have been conducting a Narcotics and Vice operation in response to complaints about drug use, drug trafficking, and other conduct in downtown Pittsburgh. Since June 28, the Pittsburgh police have made 35 arrests. Between June 28 and July 6, the Tribune-Review highlights 18 arrests for felony charges for drug delivery or possession of drugs with intent to deliver. Between July 7 and the report on July 28, Pittsburgh police have made 17 arrests resulting in eight felony charges for narcotics sales, five charges for drug possession, and four charges for establishments accused of engaging in prostitution.

The Tribune-Review article does not detail whether the arrests made at establishments accused of engaging in prostitution targeted sex buyers and traffickers or people in prostitution. The article also does not mention whether Pittsburgh police are investigating to identify victims of human trafficking. As we noted when reporting on a similar operation conducted in 2018, Pittsburgh police are right to respond to residents’ complaints, but law enforcement has a duty to understand who they are arresting. Law enforcement must understand that commercial sexual exploitation begins and ends with demand.

We advocate for the Equality Model, a policy that seeks to reduce the demand for commercial sex by criminalizing those who buy sex rather than those who are bought and sold. The Equality Model consists of four elements: (1) decriminalization of the person in prostitution, (2) criminalization of sex buyers and a commitment to treat buying sex as a serious crime, (3) a public education campaign about the inherent harms of prostitution, and (4) robust, funded exit services for people in prostitution. Criminalizing persons in prostitution does nothing to target sex buyers or traffickers nor does it extinguish the demand for commercial sex.

The CSE Institute also notes that victims of human trafficking and persons in prostitution often face intersecting vulnerabilities that are exploited by those who buy and sell them for sex. Factors like addiction, immigration status, economic need, and unstable living conditions all play a role in a person’s “choice” to sell sex. Any choice made under these circumstances is no choice at all. Survivors of human trafficking often face criminalization for crimes other than prostitution, like retail theft and drug possession, which can prevent survivors from moving forward with their lives after leaving “the life.” Law enforcement should take care to look for and address these vulnerabilities when conducting operations designed to end the demand for commercial sex in their jurisdictions.

We will continue to provide updates on this operation as they become available.

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.

Category: News

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