On April 14, 2021, a 38-year-old woman was charged with two misdemeanor counts of promoting prostitution in Lycoming County. The woman was arrested just a week after being released from State Prison on parole. Police allegedly located the woman through a cooperating witness, Kevin Scott Hamilton, 58, who met the woman on a website called SkipTheGames. Hamilton told police he met the woman at the White Deer Motel and paid her $100 for oral sex. Hamilton has since been charged with patronizing prostitutes. Based on the information from Hamilton, an undercover trooper allegedly contacted the woman through her SkipTheGames profile and arranged a meeting with her the next day. When the trooper picked up the woman in his unmarked car, she allegedly offered to provide sex acts. A traffic stop was then conducted on the undercover vehicle and the woman was taken into custody. The woman purportedly told police that she began selling sex after her release from prison because she needed money.
The CSE Institute encourages law enforcement officials to recognize prostituted people as victims of commercial sexual exploitation, rather than criminals. The CSE Institute advocates for the Equality Model. The Equality Model has four central tenants; (1) decriminalize selling sex; (2) criminalize those who purchase sex and facilitate commercial sex transactions; (3) educate the public about the dangers inherent to prostitution and (4) provide a well-funded system to assist those attempting to exit the life. Providing social services for victims is critical. These social services must address the root causes of commercial sexual exploitation, such as homelessness, poverty, and addiction.
In this case, the woman’s criminal history suggests a life of financial vulnerability and drug use. After a cycle of criminalization, the woman was released from state prison and unable to financially provide for herself, ultimately leading to her exploitation. The CSE Institute believes the woman’s parole officers should have been aware of her financial vulnerabilities once released from prison and should have put appropriate measures in place to prevent her exploitation as part of her reentry plan. If the woman received the appropriate social services to reenter life after prison, she may not have resorted to selling her body to survive.
The CSE Institute advocates for law enforcement to identify victims of commercial sexual exploitation and provide them with the services and treatment they deserve to exit the life. The CSE Institute disapproves of the tactics used by law enforcement in this case to target and criminalize the woman instead of recognizing her victimization and providing her with exit strategies necessary to end the cycle of her exploitation. The woman’s arrest by the undercover officer only perpetuates the cycle that makes it difficult for victims to exit the life and pursue a lifestyle free of exploitation. An arrest or criminal record can serve as a massive barrier to accessing stable employment, housing, immigration services or educational opportunities. When a person in prostitution is criminally charged for selling sex to survive, a criminal record further exacerbates the root issue behind their criminal conviction. In this case, the victim of sexual exploitation was selling sex to make enough money to survive only to be charged with a prostitution offense that will probably violate her parole terms and deter future employers and undoubtedly prevent her from overcoming financial hardship.
The CSE Institute commends the law enforcement officers and the Lycoming County District Attorney’s Office for arresting and bringing charges against Hamilton. We encourage law enforcement officers and district attorney’s offices to continue to use the law to target the demand for commercial sex by pursuing sex buyers and sex traffickers. However, to fully combat commercial sexual exploitation in Pennsylvania, authorities must also recognize the victimization of those exploited in the commercial sex trade. The “choice” to commit the “crime” of selling sex is often made from a place of economic insecurity, addiction, and other desperate circumstances. We believe that a “choice” made in an effort to survive is not a choice at all and those who make that “choiceless choice” should never be criminalized. The CSE Institute will provide updates on this case as they become available.