On May 14, 2019, the Monroe County District Attorney announced that a woman from Florida was arrested and charged with prostitution at a hotel during an alleged human trafficking investigation. An undercover detective responded to an advertisement allegedly posted by the woman on a website known for promoting commercial sex. An arrangement was allegedly made between the woman and undercover detective to engage in a sex act in exchange for money. When the woman was apprehended by authorities, she admitted to being in possession of drugs and provided consent for the hotel room where she was staying to be searched. Authorities allegedly located a small amount of marijuana and smoking paraphernalia.
According to the Monroe County District Attorney, it was requested the woman be held on $1000 bail. Court records state she was unable to post that bail and is currently being held in county jail. Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 22 and her formal arraignment for July 10. The Monroe County District Attorney reported that the woman’s arrest was a part of the office’s ongoing efforts to combat sex trafficking and illicit drug use in and around the county. The office further claims that detectives work with multiple organizations, locally and nationally, to help provide those involved in prostitution with shelter and rehabilitation. Yet, the woman in this case was handed criminal charges, held on bail, and now has her name and arrest photograph published for the world to see.
There is a problem when authorities report to conduct human trafficking investigations but end up arresting prostituted persons who don’t qualify as victims. The “choice” to commit the “crime” of selling sex is often made from a place of desperation, economic insecurity, addiction, or all three. While the CSE Institute supports Monroe County’s efforts to combat human trafficking in and around their county, we cannot support arresting and publishing the names and photos of prostituted persons – especially under the guise of helping those involved in commercial sex industry.
Prostituted persons need social services and vital exit strategies, not criminal convictions and public shaming. To curb human trafficking, law enforcement must shift their focus to the demand for commercial sex – those who buy sex- rather than those who sell it. Human trafficking exists because there is a demand for commercial sex, therefore continuing to criminalize those who sell sex does little to eliminate trafficking and hurts those already in extremely vulnerable situations. We hope to see Monroe County authorities target the demand for commercial sex in the future and discontinue the practice of criminalizing prostituted persons who don’t fit their “victim” mold.
All viewed 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.