Police made several arrests and shut down a home in Wilkes-Barre Township that was reported to be operating as a house of prostitution and drug dealing. The arrests were a result of a lengthy police investigation into the occupants of the home and several others, who they allege were selling drugs and sexual services.
As a result of the investigation, police obtained a warrant and subsequently searched the home. They found an array of illegal drugs, as well as scales and condoms. The police reported that prostitution services and rates were posted on a wall inside the home. Several people allegedly attempted to flee the home when the police arrived, but were arrested. Two of the suspects had active warrants and were taken directly to jail. Five others were taken to police headquarters for questioning. Wilkes-Barre Township Zoning has determined the house to be “unfit for human habitation” and the house was condemned.
It is unclear at this time whether the individuals selling sexual services were also arrested during the bust. The CSE Institute encourages law enforcement to recognize prostituted people as victims of commercial sexual exploitation, rather than arrest them. A prostituted person’s arrest by law enforcement only serves to perpetuate the cycle of exploitation and prevent them from exiting the life. A single arrest record or criminal conviction can serve as a massive barrier to accessing stable employment, housing, immigration, or educational opportunities. Without that stability, it is not uncommon for victims to return to the life as a means of survival.
For this reason, 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. The Equality Model prioritizes the rights of those who are exploited by decriminalizing prostituted people. It recognizes that criminalizing prostituted people only exacerbates the root issue behind the criminal arrest or conviction. Rather than criminalize prostituted people, the Equality Model advocates for providing holistic services to victims of commercial sexual exploitation that address the vulnerabilities that made them susceptible to exploitation. These holistic services provide victims with the tools they need to exit and remain free from a life of exploitation.
The CSE Institute commends the Wilkes-Barre Township police for shutting down this “house of exploitation.” We encourage law enforcement officers to continue to pursue those who profit from the commercial sexual exploitation of vulnerable people. However, to fully combat commercial sexual exploitation in Pennsylvania, authorities must also recognize prostituted people as victims of the commercial sex trade, rather than criminalize them. The CSE Institute will provide updates on this case as they become available.