In January 2023, West Chester police arrested the manager of the Zen Spa, for prostitution, while operating a massage parlor. Specifically, the Zen Spa manager was arrested and charged with promoting prostitution and soliciting prostitution. Police report that they received information regarding prostitution and other illegal activity at Zen Spa in November 2022. Chief James Morehead stated, “The West Chester Police Department is committed to proactively addressing criminal and quality of life issues within our community.” He also noted that “This case is an example of how our department works with the community to keep West Chester safe.” A preliminary hearing for the Zen Spa manager is pending at District Court.
Although the CSE Institute commends the West Chester police force for their investigative efforts and their commitment to keep their community safe, it is imperative law enforcement understands that persons in prostitution should not be arrested in an investigation to end the sex trade. Instead, the CSE Institute encourages police officials to focus on arresting sex buyers who profit from commercial sexual exploitation as opposed to victims. Sexual exploitation is rooted in inequality, racism, and sexism. Buying sex and sexual exploitation are inherently linked, if there is a demand for sex there will be sexual exploitation. Therefore, if law enforcement officers are utilizing their resources with a purpose of ending commercial sexual exploitation and keeping communities safe, it is important they remember that by targeting demand, they are also targeting the root cause of sexual exploitation. Illicit massage businesses, like the Zen Spa, exist because they have customers – sex buyers – patronizing their business.
The CSE Institute supports the Equality Model to combat commercial sexual exploitation. Commercial sexual exploitation has decreased in countries where the Equality Model has been implemented. The Equality Model consists of four key elements: (1) decriminalization of the prostituted person, (2) criminalization of sex buyers and facilitators with a commitment to treating buying sex as a serious crime, (3) a public education campaign about the inherent harms of prostitution, and (4) funded, robust, holistic exit services for victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The Equality Model directly targets the demand for buying sex by criminalizing sex buyers and traffickers, while decriminalizing the people who are being bought and sold for commercial sex. Furthermore, the decriminalization of people in prostitution recognizes those who are bought and sold for sex as exploited, not as perpetrators of a crime.
The CSE Institute will continue to provide updates on this matter.
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 of Villanova University.