In late April, Westmoreland County police charged a Rhode Island woman with promoting prostitution after she claimed that a Greensburg, PA woman arranged for her to come to western Pennsylvania and “make some money.” The police made the charge after engaging in an online sting operation. The officer allegedly agreed to pay $200 in exchange for a sex act with the Rhode Island woman. Consequently, the police also charged the Greensburg woman with promoting prostitution and with running a prostitution business.
The police responded to an advertisement on a website known as “Skip the Games,” which has been known to promote prostitution since federal authorities shut down Backpage in 2018, according to police. While Skip the Games promotes itself as a dating site where consenting adults can meet up and “have fun,” police investigations on user participation reveal that the site is entirely for the promotion of sex. This mission is especially evident in the site’s slogan, “get satisfaction.”
Skip the Games arguably promotes sex in a dangerous and vulgar manner. Unsurprisingly, mostly profiles for female users are posted throughout the site as “personal” ads. The pictures accompanying these “personal” ads are extremely risqué and unlike those on traditional dating sites. Each ad includes a physical description, a list of sexual acts users “consent to,” as well as contact information. Even though money is not explicitly mentioned on the website, police investigating Skip the Games frequently find that the women being advertised are trafficking victims. According to Pennsylvania police departments investigating the site, the totality of the circumstances indicates that, despite the site’s promotion of consent, consent may not be present in every transition the site facilitates.
The facts of this Westmoreland County case indicate that this Rhode Island woman has been involved in prostitution for years. While sources do not note how or why the Greensburg woman convinced her to come from Rhode Island to Pennsylvania to work, coercion may have been involved. The preliminary hearings are tentatively scheduled for July 16, 2020.
The CSE Institute would like to encourage Westmoreland County to investigate whether the woman from Rhode Island is a victim of sex trafficking. Regardless, she should neither be charged nor convicted of prostitution. Those who engage in commercial sex do so as means of survival. This is in sharp contrast to those who choose to buy sex, who are instead using their privileged economic status to gain access to the body of another. As such, police departments must target sex buyers and criminally penalize them. Further, police must keep a watchful eye on dangerous sites like Skip the Games, where sex buyers have unfettered access to persons who may be forced to sell sex against their will.
For more information on laws surrounding online promotion of prostitution and the litigation surrounding this information, please see the CSE Institute’s 2019 Annual Report and watch for our 2020 Annual report to be released later this month.