On Thursday, March 21, the Allentown Police Department executed a prostitution sting investigation at an Allentown area motel. One woman was arrested as a result.
On that afternoon, an officer was investigating allegations of prostitution in Allentown and was “browsing a website advertising sexual services in exchange for money.” The officer found an advertisement that listed various sexual acts, a phone number, and showed photos of a woman “wearing almost no clothes and posing in sexually provocative positions.” According to The Morning Call, the officer contacted the number and allegedly “arranged to pay $130 and meet at an area motel room for sex.” When the officer arrived at the motel room, his affiliation with law enforcement was revealed. The woman attempted to flee but was ultimately taken into custody.
After her arrest, she was charged with prostitution (a third-degree misdemeanor) and appeared before Magisterial District Judge Karen C. Devine on March 21 for a preliminary arraignment. The Morning Call article does not indicate whether any attempt was made by law enforcement to determine if the woman was a victim of human trafficking. There was also no mention of a search for or any investigation into any alleged sex buyers who may have also responded to the website advertisement.
Although Pennsylvania law criminalizes the purchase of sex, sex buyers are prosecuted at a much lower rate than prostituted persons; in 2017, sex buyers comprised less than 25%of commercial sex related arrests in Pennsylvania. Instead of focusing on arresting prostituted persons, the CSE Institute advocates for the implementation of the Nordic Model, which decriminalizes the selling of sex and provides vital social services instead of penalties for those engaged in commercial sexual exploitation – like the woman in this case. This model also focuses on arresting those who purchase or sell others for sex as a means to curb the demand for sexual exploitation altogether.
As the front line in stopping and spotting sex trafficking, law enforcement officers have a duty to attempt to identify potential victims of trafficking, and also have the discretion not to arrest them. The CSE Institute is hopeful that by mirroring the Nordic Model and focusing on sex buyers who profit from exploitation, and the demand which drives the market for commercial sex, local authorities can take meaningful steps towards eliminating sexual exploitation in their jurisdictions.
All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or Villanova University.