On Tuesday evening, January 17, 2017, Allentown police arrested Jovanie Alvarado and Rafael Mateo in the lobby of the Super 8 Motel at 1033 Airport Road. The two men were charged with criminal conspiracy, promoting prostitution, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Alvarado and Mateo both have prior arrest records in Lehigh County. They were both formally arraigned by District Judge Rashid Santiago on Wednesday, January 18, 2017, and bail was set at $50,000 each.
The arrests were a result of an undercover operation led by the Allentown Police Department’s Vice Unit. Vice responded to an advertisement on backpage.com (click here for updates on the Backpage litigation) and arranged a meeting with the advertised woman at the Airport Road motel. Upon arrival, the woman advertised on backpage.com led the investigator to a room which Alvarado and Mateo were allegedly observed exiting. The woman was arrested and charged with prostitution after undressing in the room.
Inside the motel room, police allegedly found and confiscated empty bags of heroin, needles, and other drug paraphernalia along with documents addressed to Mateo. Allegedly, the two men kept all of the proceeds gained from the woman’s commercial sex encounters. Additionally, on the day of their arrest, the men allegedly prevented their victim from obtaining enough heroin to sustain her cravings, and she went into withdrawal. The woman told authorities that Alvarado paid for the room–a statement which was allegedly confirmed by Alvarado himself.
Preliminary hearings on the charges against Mateo and Alvarado and Mateo were held on Friday, February 10, 2017. The men currently remain in custody at Lehigh County Jail. They are awaiting trial scheduled for March 28, 2017.
Human trafficking is a dangerous enterprise, often hidden from sight but nonetheless present in our communities. It takes place in big cities, Lehigh County, and all throughout the Commonwealth. Women are regularly lured into commercial sexual exploitation under misconceptions, deceit and coercion. Prostituted women are victims.
Victims of commercial sexual exploitation have commonly had to endure extreme hardships, including poverty and abuse, in their childhoods and adult lives. In turn, victims are attracted to their exploiters who knowingly manipulate their existing vulnerabilities by promising protection, love, and support. But these are always false promises. In reality, victims of commercial sexual exploitation are mistreated and used as nothing but means to an end.
Like the woman in this case, it is common for prostituted women to use drugs to cope. When exploiters like Alvarado and Mateo refuse to supply the regular amount and withdrawal inevitably begins, these women are all the more trapped. They are completely dependent on the drugs and therefore dependent on whoever supplies them. Act 105, Pennsylvania’s comprehensive human trafficking statute, explicitly criminalizes this form of coercion which was clearly used in this case; however, Alvarado and Mateo have yet to be charged under this statute.
The CSE Institute applauds the efforts of the Allentown Police Department Vice Unit and the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office in pursuing these criminals who promote commercial sex and perpetuate human trafficking. It is imperative that we take down traffickers to end commercial sexual exploitation.
Although, arresting prostituted persons will not stop the demand for sex. Again, many prostituted women are forced into commercial sex. Buyers, on the other hand, are not being exploited or forced at all. Rather, they partake in the exploitation. We believe that enforcing statutes in the Pennsylvania crimes code (18 Pa. C.S. §§ 5902(e), 3012, 3013) that empower law enforcement to arrest and charge sex buyers is the most effective method to combat the trade of human sex trafficking.
We will continue to follow this case and report on updates.