On October 24, 2019, undercover FBI agents working with the Cranberry Township police department arrested a 59-year-old woman at a hotel in Cranberry Township in an effort to “crack down” on prostitution in Butler County. The arrest of this woman is the first in the FBI’s ongoing investigation.
According to media reports, the woman was arrested after investigators found an online advertisement which appeared to be selling minors for sex. Investigators communicated with the individual who purportedly posted the ad and allegedly agreed to purchase sexual services for $300. Once at the designated meet-up place, investigators arrested the woman. The investigation is ongoing, but police have not yet made public statements about any other arrests or whether there are any minor victims of human trafficking involved.
The woman has been charged with two counts of prostitution, one count of criminal use of a communication facility and one count of possessing an instrument of crime. She does not speak fluent English but admitted to accepting payment for sex through a Mandarin translator. Therefore, it is probable that she is not the person with whom the police communicated. However, details have not been released as to whether she herself may have been trafficked. She is certainly in a more vulnerable position because she cannot communicate directly with police. It is unfortunate that local news outlets chose to feature her name and face so prominently in their coverage, when the few details available to the public seem to point to the woman being a victim herself.
The CSE Institute appreciates that local police are cooperating with the FBI’s efforts to fight potential sex trafficking of minors and implores them to continue to investigate. While their involvement is well-intentioned, it is unfortunate that the woman has now been caught in the crossfire of a mission that seemed to have started out as a crackdown on trafficking, not the prosecution of a prostituted person. While we continue to support the Nordic model, which prioritizes the criminalization of sex buyers, the investigation thus far has not targeted any person who has actually perpetuated a prostitution ring. There is a significant gap between questioning a prostituted person for the purpose of potentially locating those who might have trafficked her and others, and taking her into custody with the goal of targeting prostitution, rather than its driving force. For this reason, we cannot support the actions of Cranberry Township police. There is no ‘win’ for the community when a proclaimed mission of spreading awareness of the issue of human trafficking is used to prosecute those in prostitution rather than its purveyors.
The woman is currently being held pending a formal arraignment later this year, and there have been no recent updates as to the development of this investigation. We will continue to update this story as the investigation progresses.