This past September in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, authorities conducted an all-day undercover prostitution investigation in which 11 people were arrested, according to The News Eagle. Of those arrests, Brian Merrit, Michael Bauman, John Menapace, and David Ferguson ultimately plead guilty to patronizing prostitutes. Jason Nepa and David Pomeran were also arrested for allegedly patronizing prostitutes during this sting. We have been unable to locate any dockets related to their charging information.
Four women were arrested for promoting prostitution during the investigation, as well as an alleged pimp named, Prince Anthony Rodriguez. A search of Mr. Rodriguez’s vehicle revealed a myriad of guns and ammunition, including a semi-automatic rifle with four fully loaded magazines. The News Eagle reports that an investigation into the firearms is ongoing.
Regarding the investigation, Wayne County District Attorney, Patrick L. Robinson, correctly stated in the article published by The News Eagle that “prostitution is not a victimless crime”, and is “often associated with human trafficking, illegal drugs, guns, and violence”. The purported aim of the investigation, “to create a public awareness and deter anyone from buying sex,” is also an admirable goal. Reports state that the investigating agencies worked along with The Truth Home, an anti-trafficking organization, to conduct the sting, as well.
Despite the alleged good intentions attached to the sting, Wayne County Drug Task Force and the District Attorney’s office created an image compilation of the arrest photographs and names of the alleged prostituted persons alongside those arrested for allegedly trying to buy sex, and also posted about the arrests on their Facebook pages. While selling and buying sex are both a crime in Pennsylvania, those who purchase sex clearly have the upper hand in the matter. They have the privilege of being able to freely choose to exchange their money for a sex act from a person who is statistically less advantaged than them. No one is entitled to sex, but everyone needs access to basic needs, such as food and shelter – often the motivation behind selling sex in instances when a person is not being forced to do so by a pimp/trafficker. When force is involved, the prostituted person is motivated by avoiding violence or certain death at the hands of their pimp/trafficker.
Purporting to conduct an investigation focused on curbing the demand for commercial sex and identifying trafficking victims is a worthwhile cause but failing to recognize the nuanced power imbalance inherently at play by arresting persons selling sex and posting their pictures online is problematic, at best. We are glad to see law enforcement collaborating on stings aimed to end the demand for commercial sex, but we hope a more thoughtful implantation approach is taken in the future.
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.