On March 30, 2018, an undercover police investigation resulted in the arrest of a woman working in a massage parlor for reportedly offering to sell sex to an officer. According to FOX 43, a police officer posed as a sex buyer and entered into Therapeutic Massage of Ephrata, where a woman allegedly “attempted to perform a sex act on the officer in exchange for money” and after making this overture was subsequently arrested.
The news report did not detail any other arrests as a result of this investigation. There is no mention of whether other individuals were present at the massage parlor or if there was a manager or owner coercing the woman to offer commercial sex to customers. Instead, the news report focuses solely on the arrest of the prostituted woman without investigating any further. The article also published her arrest photograph and name.
The CSE Institute does not support punishing those who perform commercial sex acts. Instead, we advocate for the Nordic Model, which only criminalizes those who purchase commercial sex and offers vital social services that enable prostituted persons to exit “the life”. Shifting law enforcement’s perspective on handling these types of cases is more pertinent than ever considering the publishing of a recent reportthat found 9,000 illicit massage parlors operating in the United States. Many of these businesses contained victims of trafficking. Victims working in massage parlors are coerced into performing commercial sex acts– a textbook definition of traffickingunder the United States Anti-Trafficking law.
The CSE Institute encourages investigations to identify victims, not prosecute them. This includes asking questions such as: Is this person being held against their will (physically or psychologically)? Has the person been manipulated to perform commercial sex acts? Was the person threatened with deportation, harm to their family, or shame in their community? As the front line in stopping and spotting trafficking, law enforcement officers have the power and the discretion to identify potential victims of trafficking. The CSE Institute hopes that more victims will be identified and provided with resources necessary to leave the world of commercial sexual exploitation.
While this case dealt with a police-driven sting investigation, many articles covering commercial sexual exploitation focus solely on alleged “crimes” of prostituted persons. Media and news outlets have a role to play in combatting trafficking. Rather than publishing the photos and names of individuals who are arrested for offering—or perhaps being coerced—to perform commercial sex acts, media outlets should investigate those individuals who seek to purchase commercial sex. If the name and photo of an individual who sought to SOLICIT a commercial sex act were published, that individual might be dissuaded from repeating such an offense in the future. This could ultimately lead to a lower demand for commercial sex, all together. A cultural change towards publicly renouncing the PURCHASE of commercial sex acts is essential to truly halting the behavior that leads to so many individuals being trafficked. The CSE Institute hopes that strong community leaders will work towards such changes and hold individuals accountable for their decisions to purchase sex.
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.