On March 11, 2019, Victor Shvenke (65 years old), Travis Horner (38 years old), and Harold Geise (64 years old) were arrested for buying sex as a result of a surveillance operation run by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and the State College Police Department. As reported by Centre Daily Times, the investigation occurred at the Super 8 in State College.
The Attorney General’s Office and State College Police Department received a tip about sex buyers at the Super 8. Officers rented a hotel room across from the suspected room where men were allegedly purchasing sex. According to Centre Daily Times, they saw Shvenke, Horner, and Harold purportedly enter the room at different times. The officers then arrested the three men during traffic stops conducted after they left the hotel. All of the men admitted that they paid at least 140 dollars to have sex.
The alleged sex buyers were charged with one misdemeanor count of soliciting prostitution and another misdemeanor count of criminal solicitation. Their preliminary hearings will be held on April 17, 2019. Two women also arrested as a result of the joint operation were both charged with, and are expected to plead guilty to, one misdemeanor count of prostitution. One of these women was also charged with a felony count of criminal use of a communication facility.
StateCollege.com reported that one of the women charged with prostitution said that someone in Las Vegas arranges these types of meetings for her. She then pays that person each time she meets with someone.
While the CSE Institute commends the joint efforts of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and the State College Police Department in their investigation and arrest of these alleged sex buyers, we are discouraged by the arrests of these women.The CSE Institute advocates for a demand-driven approach to policing the commercial sex industry rather than criminalizing prostituted persons. Therefore, the CSE Institute is troubled by the arrests of the women in this case, especially since this was being investigated as not only prostitution related, but for human trafficking. These women may have been trafficked and forced to perform sexual acts, indicating they should be treated as victims, not criminals.
Additionally, the CSE Institute is concerned by the decision to charge one of the women with criminal use of a communication facility. As we have previously reported, Allegheny County now includes cell phones and condoms among “instruments of crime” under 18 Pa.C.S. § 907. Cell phones and condoms are essential to prostituted persons’ safety and should not be used to enhance a prostitution charge. Given the often violent nature of prostitution, having a cell-phone provides a sense of security to prostituted persons. Adding this charge does nothing other than further re-victimization, increase stigmatization of prostituted persons, and place prostituted persons in danger.
The media’s reporting on this incident is also of concern. Centre Daily Times, a media platform, reported on this incident twice. The first report on February 1, 2019 was almost entirely focused on the women arrested for prostitution. While the women’s activities were detailed, names were included, and mug shots were posted, the three men who bought sex were barely mentioned. On March 11, 2019, this platform posted another article focused more so on the men arrested for buying sex.
The CSE Institute encourages the media to consider how their reporting impacts the disparity in treatment between those charged with selling sex and those charged with buying sex. Listing the names and mug shots of those who allegedly sell sex leads to further victimization of these women, and a focus on the demand is a more effective way to deter commercial sexual exploitation.
All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or Villanova University.