On August 24, 2023, the Williamsport police department charged Jennifer Lynn Gibbs, 36, of Williamsport, Pennsylvania with multiple counts of Trafficking in Individuals, Prostitution, and Endangering the Welfare of a Child. Gibbs is currently being held in Lycoming County Prison in lieu of paying $125,000 bail. The police department also charged Allen Frazier, 39, of Williamsport, with multiple counts of Trafficking in Individuals. Frazier is currently detained in State Prison and will be arraigned on these charges on September 5, 2023. A third individual, Victor Booth, 40, of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, was charged with multiple counts of Trafficking in Individuals, Promoting Prostitution of a Minor, and Endangering the Welfare of Children. Booth was unable to post bail and is being held in Lycoming County awaiting his preliminary hearing on September 7, 2023.
These charges follow an investigation conducted by the Williamsport police after they received a report from a confidential informant on August 7, 2023 of suspected sex trafficking. Gibbs and Frazier were alleged to have been grooming two minor females, ages 12 and 16, to perform sexual acts. Both Gibbs and Booth allegedly admitted that they intended to traffic the two juveniles in exchange for drugs, cash, or both. While Frazier denies solicitation, he allegedly admitted to knowing Gibbs was attempting to traffic the children to support Gibbs and Booth’s drug addiction. Additionally, the juvenile victims purportedly told police that while they were alone with Frazier, he would offer them money in exchange for sex acts.
Under Pennsylvania law, a person is guilty of child sex trafficking if they recruit, entice, solicit, advertise, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, or maintain a person under 18 for any sex act in exchange for anything of value. Anything of value is not limited to money but can include, drugs, shelter, legal services, or food. Often sex traffickers will create a “patriarchal structure” where they control those subordinate to them. In addition, they may have what is commonly referred to as a “bottom girl” who is “second in command.” The use of the term “bottom girl” is common among those involved in a trafficking organization. We use this term to identify those whose experiences align with this specific role in a trafficking scheme. While we are mindful that using street terms in academic writing can further the harmful rhetoric common in human trafficking, this term is familiar and understood by those who occupy this role.
Traffickers will often manipulate “bottom girls” into overseeing aspects of the trafficking operation, including recruitment. Traffickers will assert control over these women through violence, coercion, fraud, or managing access to food or drugs to assure compliance. The CSE Institute urges the Lycoming County Prosecutors to view the prosecution of Gibbs through the lens of the potential application of the sex trafficking victim-offender overlap, which also addresses the trafficker’s coercive tactics. Prosecutors, law enforcement, judges, and the legislature must acknowledge that a “bottom girl’s” criminalization is inseparable from her victimization.
The CSE Institute commends the Williamsport Police Department and investigators for their work to hold traffickers accountable and support survivors of sexual exploitation. It is vital that law enforcement remain vigilant about protecting the youth in their communities and conducting investigations that target child sexual abuse and rape. Often predators will find their victims by expressing a shared interest on social media and making themselves indispensable as a trusted mentor or friend. Parents should be aware of what their children are doing online and report any adults they see attempting to have suspect communications.
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 Villanova University.