Last month, just outside Harrisburg in the township of Swatara, police arrested one thirty-eight year old man, Suk Tamang, and two twenty-two year old women, Inez Crowner and Natasha McCall. Mr. Tamang was arrested and charged with patronizing a prostitute and Ms. Crowner and Ms. McCall were arrested and charged with prostitution. The arrests were made in the midst of a larger effort by law enforcement and the Dauphin County DA’s Office to uncover suspected human trafficking and prostitution in the community. Police and prosecutors were alerted to this activity through web advertisements on sites like backpage.com, which allow anyone to post a wide range of content, including solicitations for sex.
The CSE Institute commends the efforts of Swatara and Dauphin County law enforcement for working to uncover human trafficking in their community. We also support the Dauphin County DA’s Office for prosecuting sex buyers. The Dauphin County DA brought charges against Mr. Tamang under 18 PA. C.S.A. § 5902(e), Pennsylvania’s patronizing prostitution statute, which provides, “a person commits the offense of patronizing prostitutes if that person hires a prostitute…” Patronizing a prostitute is a misdemeanor in the third degree for the first and second offense. If Mr. Tamang is convicted, he faces up to one year in prison and/or a fine not exceeding $2,500 under 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 1104(1) and § 1101(6) respectively.
The CSE Institute believes the steps the Dauphin County DA’s Office have taken to prosecute sex buyers are important because of a fundamental belief in basic economic principles. If law enforcement polices the demand for commercial sex, prostitution and trafficking will decline. Further, based on court records, this is Mr. Tamang’s first offense in Pennsylvania (or at least this is his first time getting caught). If sex buyers know that on their first attempt to purchase sex that they could be caught, arrested, prosecuted, fined, and even end up in the news, then less people will demand the vulnerable women and men that traffickers exploit. The persistent efforts of law enforcement and county prosecutors to stop sex buying will decrease demand and decrease trafficking.
The two prostituted women here, Ms. Crowner and Ms. McCall were charged under 18 PA. C.S.A. § 5902(a). Under this statute, Ms. Crowner and Ms. McCall are subject to the same fine and jail sentence as Mr. Tamang. Again, both women are only twenty-two years old, and they also already have prior criminal history in Dauphin County. Ms. Crowner has previously been arrested and convicted of retail theft and conspiracy to commit retail theft. Ms. McCall has been convicted of escape and receiving stolen property. This is the first time that either woman has been charged with prostitution. What their records tell us, is that both women have been left with few options in their efforts to survive. They were arrested in efforts to stop trafficking but it is not clear in the media reports whether or not they were trafficked. But we do know that many women who are this age and have a criminal history are susceptible to becoming victims of trafficking. For example, traffickers often times pay the bail of women in their stables as a means of coercion. State law does address this issue in 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3012(b)(11) regarding involuntary servitude, which states, “A person may subject a person to involuntary servitude through any of the following means…(including) (11) debt coercion.”
However, regardless of whether or not they were trafficked, these women will not find healing in the criminal justice system. They need access to social services and people they can trust to open them up to opportunities to make a living. Rather, an approach that sends a clear message to sex buyers like Mr. Tamang that women are not for sale will suppress demand and help end sexual exploitation.
The CSE Institute encourages law enforcement- like in Dauphin County- to work with those outside of the criminal justice system to find alternatives that empower prostituted women with the opportunities to find safe and sustainable ways to survive. Counties like Dauphin are taking steps towards freeing their communities from sex trafficking. But if we are going to truly defeat sex trafficking in communities across our state and across the country, we need a comprehensive and holistic commitment on the part of all law enforcement, prosecutors, and state legislators to end the buying of sex, and empower women to walk away from the life of prostitution.