On Saturday, October 7, 2023, the Scranton Police Department arrested a man and a woman in a prostitution sting. Officers began their investigation by posing as a sex buyer on a website “geared toward prostitution.” After engaging with the woman on the site, the undercover officer arranged to meet with her to exchange sex for money. When the woman arrived to meet who she believed was a sex buyer, she met with the officer and he detained her. She allegedly admitted that she planned to engage in prostitution, and she was arrested and charged with prostitution, possession of a controlled substance by a person not registered, possession of marijuana, and use/possession of drug paraphernalia. Bail was set at the amount of $25,000 on October 8, and changed to unsecured on October 18.
The officers also arrested the man who drove the woman to the meeting point, later identified as Carlton Gray. He admitted to transporting the woman in exchange for money. After conducting a search of his cell phone, officers recovered messages that indicated that the woman was engaged in prostitution and the man was profiting from her prostitution. He was charged with promoting prostitution, possession of marijuana, and use/possession of drug paraphernalia. Bail was set at the amount of $25,000.00 on October 8, and changed to unsecured on October 18. Later at police headquarters, the woman allegedly told officers that Gray transports her city-to-city in exchange for sexual favors.
The CSE Institute encourages Lackawanna County to utilize Pennsylvania’s human trafficking statute in cases such as this. This statute defines trafficking in individuals as a felony of the first degree when a person recruits, entices, solicits, advertises, harbors, transports, provides, obtains or maintains an individual if the person knows or recklessly disregards that the individual will be subject to sexual servitude. This statute further provides that it is a felony of the first degree if the person knowingly benefits financially or receives anything of value from any act that facilitates any activity described above.
Here, there appears to be evidence that demonstrates Gray both knowingly transported the woman for the purpose of subjecting her to sexual servitude and knowingly benefitted financially from the same. These facts support charging Gray under the Pennsylvania human trafficking statute if one of the 13 factors set forth in 18 Pa.C.S. 3012(b) can be met.
Moreover, while the CSE Institute applauds Scranton PD’s efforts to reduce commercial sexual exploitation, we are disappointed in the decision to charge the woman rather than recognize her as the victim of the exploitation they were attempting to target. The practice of prosecuting people who are bought and sold for sex perpetuates the harmful notion that people in prostitution are criminals rather than people who are exploited.
Lastly, the CSE Institute condemns The Scranton Times-Tribune for its harmful framing of prostitution in its article. First, by reporting that the arrests resulted from a “prostitution sting,” the Times-Tribune perpetuates the criminalization of prostitution rather than recognizing the system of prostitution as one deeply rooted in gender-based violence and fueled by the demand of sex buyers. Instead, the CSE Institute encourages law enforcement and media to focus on buyers and traffickers in conducting and reporting on “stings.” Second, by referring to sex buyers as “customers,” the writer normalizes the act of buying sex and categorizes sex buyers as customers like any other. Instead, we encourage the media to hold sex buyers responsible for their role in fueling the commercial sex industry. Third, by reporting that the police “had the man who drove [the woman] around in handcuffs,” the writer diminished Gray’s active role in trafficking her by casting him as a neutral character who “ended up in handcuffs.” Instead, we encourage the media to recognize sex trafficking as a serious crime.
The way that the media reports on the system of prostitution and human trafficking matters. In a world where prostitution is increasingly normalized as “sex work” and victims continue to be prosecuted and criminalized for their own exploitation, it is essential for the media to recognize prostitution for what it is and call it what it is: exploitation.
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 of Villanova University.