Over six months ago on December 10th, 2019, Pennsylvania’s State Trooper Organized Crime Unit conducted a prostitution investigation, leading to the arrest of a 23-year-old woman. Troopers originally obtained the woman’s phone number from Skipthegames.com, a website that openly facilitates commercial sex transactions. The woman allegedly exchanged text messages with the undercover trooper and agreed to meet for a “date.” The texts allegedly discussed which sex acts she would perform in exchange for money.
When the woman arrived at the agreed upon location, troopers searched and detained her, finding evidence of alleged drug use. According to The Citizens’ Voice, the woman allegedly explained to the troopers that she engaged in commercial sex because she was struggling with substance use disorder. She then purportedly told the troopers she was staying with her boyfriend at the Wood Spring Suites. Troopers searched the woman’s hotel room, which revealed more alleged drugs. The woman’s boyfriend, Robert Hunter, was detained and charged with various drug offenses that night. Court records also indicate he was charged shortly after with 18 § 4915 §§ A3 – Failure to Report Accurate Information – a charge reserved for persons required to register as sex offenders. That case was withdrawn on June 9, 2020. A second man was found in the hotel room during the investigation, allegedly surrounded by needles. Daniel Zeigler was charged with possessing drug paraphernalia and was released on his own recognizance.
At the conclusion of the investigation, police charged the woman with promoting prostitution and possessing drug paraphernalia. On June 16, 2020, Magisterial District Judge Thomas F. Malloy Sr. ordered her jailed and set bail at $5,000. Although the woman has not been convicted of any offense, she remains in jail unable to post bail.
The CSE Institute is discouraged, to say the least, by the Pennsylvania State Trooper Organized Crime Unit for conducting investigations that result in the criminalization of those who are sexually exploited. While investigations conducted to deter commercial sexual exploitation are an important means to end sex trafficking, they should focus solely on the those who traffic and buy persons for sex.
Instead of being provided with resources to treat the substance use disorder that allegedly lead this woman to engage in commercial sex, she was criminally charged and sent to jail approximately 6 months after the initial investigation – in the middle of a global pandemic. Some counties in Pennsylvania have begun to loosen stay-at-home restrictions and open some businesses, but COVID-19 remains a real threat in Luzerne County and across the Commonwealth. Those who are incarcerated are at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19, as they are forced to remain in close quarters and cannot easily social distance. Sending someone to jail during a pandemic should be reserved for instances that benefit the safety of the community.
We hope in the future the Pennsylvania’s State Trooper Organized Crime Unit uses sites like Skipthegames.com to target sex buyers and traffickers, instead of marginalized individuals suffering from substance use disorder.