Scranton, Pa

Why Prostituted Persons Should Never be Targeted for Arrest in Human Trafficking Investigations

Posted: July 13, 2016


On Thursday, June 30, 2016, the Stroudsburg police department conducted two separate prostitution stings. One targeting sex buyers, and the other targeting prostituted persons—or those who sell sex. The stings resulted with twelve men arrested for attempting to buy sex and three women arrested for attempting to sell sex. The CSE Institute applauds the efforts to target the sex buyers. However, the CSE Institute is disheartened and perplexed with the decision to target prostituted persons in an “effort to combat human trafficking.”

There were two components to the sting. First, female undercover police officers, posed as prostituted persons, advertising themselves on, and arranged to meet potential sex buyers. Once the officers met with the potential buyers, the terms of the transaction were negotiated and money exchanged hands, prompting the officer to identify herself and arrest the buyer. The second component to the sting, targeted prostituted persons—those who sell sex. Male undercover police officers responded to advertisements, posing as potential sex buyers. They then went to meet the prostituted person, and, once a deal was struck and the woman began to undress, the police officer identified himself and arrested her.

There are several issues with the decision to arrest the prostituted persons during this sting. First, sex buyers and sellers do not have equal culpability in a financial transaction for sexual acts. Prostituted persons rarely have any choice when turning to prostitution. Rather, most are sold by traffickers or engage in commercial sex as a means of survival. Prostituted persons are typically homeless, drug-addicted, undereducated, and/or jobless. Buyers of sex, however, retain choice in their decisions at each step in the commission of the crime of prostitution. They are not engaging in commercial sex as a means of survival in the way prostituted persons are. Rather, sex buyers are “everyday men”—white collar to blue collar workers of all ages—husbands, fathers, grandfathers, sons, brothers, uncles, etc. who have the funds to purchase sex, and ultimately use these funds to exploit subservient women who are merely trying to survive. Furthermore, sex buyers maintain the dominant role throughout the sexual encounter. Buyers, as the party paying for sexual services, have the ability to demand that the prostituted person remain submissive to the buyer’s most heinous and threatening sexual desires. In fact, it is not uncommon for purchasers of sex to report that they purchase commercial sexual services from prostituted persons because they are seeking to engage in sex acts they consider too deviant to subject their wives or girlfriends to.

Another issue with focusing policing efforts on arresting prostituted persons is that arresting prostituted persons does not decrease the overall amount of commercial sexual exploitation and prostitution related crimes in the way arresting buyers does. Sex buyers fund the sex industry. Traffickers are in the business of trafficking because it is lucrative. The trafficking business is lucrative because, as basic economic theory recognizes, supply follows demand. The demand for commercial sex is high, in part, due to the patriarchal mentality that is saturated within American culture (that in a man’s world, where men are entitled to sex and “boys will be boys,” women’s bodies can be commoditized and by extension, buying sex is “normal”). Traffickers know this, and this entices them to commit the crime of human trafficking. Furthermore, arresting prostituted persons does not deter women from entering the life of prostitution in the first place. Prostituted persons are not freely choosing to sell sex but are either being sold for sex by traffickers or being exploited by purchasers in an effort to survive. Therefore, if women are engaging in prostitution either out of force or as a means of survival, fear of arrest will be an ineffective means of deterrence.

Additionally, prostituted persons are, more often than not, victims of sex trafficking, under both federal and state law, while buyers can be charged as traffickers in particular instances.  Federal law recognized that those who purchase sex are just as criminally culpable as traffickers when the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) was passed in May of 2015, codifying the holding in US v. Jungers, 702 F.3d 1066 (8th Cir. 2013) (reading the prohibited act of “obtaining” a prostituted person broadly enough to extend to buyers of sex). The JVTA added the words “advertises,” patronizes,” and “solicits” to the prohibited acts under the human trafficking statute to make it clear that purchasers of commercial sex can be charged as traffickers. The federal human trafficking statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1591, makes those who purchase children for sex per se traffickers. For victims over the age of 18, the means of force, fraud, or coercion must be proven. However, this was still a monumental step in recognizing the culpability of sex buyers. Furthermore, in Pennsylvania, the human trafficking statute, 18 Pa.C.S. § § 3011, 3012, includes the words, “entices,” “solicits,” and “obtains.” This similar language can likely be used to also target sex buyers as traffickers if the buyer bought a child under the age of 18-years-old for sex, or used any of the means that could be characterized as force, fraud, or coercion in purchasing an adult for sex.

Finally, the CSE Institute is perplexed by the way this operation was framed by the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office and the media. One article, describing the event, said, “The sting operation, spearheaded by Detective Kim Lippincott of the District Attorney’s Office, was part of the District Attorney’s Office’s ongoing efforts to combat human trafficking and prostitution in the community.” The article also said, “crisis workers from the Truth Home were on-hand to offer services to victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery, as were representatives from Monroe County Children and Youth Services to assist in the event that children were encountered during the operation. The Truth Home is an Allentown-based therapeutic residential home for victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.” While the CSE Institute applauds the efforts recognizing that human trafficking stings should include the availability of social services for victims identified in the sting, the resulting arrests of three prostituted persons does not make sense. Victims of human trafficking are those who are sold for sex—prostituted persons. Combatting human trafficking, therefore, should focus on an effort to identify victims—not arrest victims.

The CSE Institute praises Monroe County’s work in recognizing the demand’s criminal culpability and efforts to identify victims of human trafficking. However, the CSE Institute cautions Pennsylvania District Attorneys’ Offices and Police Departments to refrain from focusing efforts to combat human trafficking on arresting victims of human trafficking—regardless of whether the prostituted persons are working alone or are controlled by a pimp.


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