Montgomery Township is a Montgomery County suburb of Philadelphia, with a population of about 22,000. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified by residents and law enforcement as substantial problems in the township and throughout the county, including the nearby communities of Norristown, Upper Merion Township, and Pottstown. Local law enforcement report that they often see well over 100 online ads for sex in nearby towns, such as King of Prussia, Wilmington, Princeton and Atlantic City.
In February 2014, law enforcement officials announced a plan to combat prostitution and sex trafficking in Montgomery County, featuring more aggressive enforcement (i.e., reverse stings) and more severe penalties (including increased fines and shaming) for sex buyers. Explaining the reasons for this focus, District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferma said:
“We’re going to start aggressively going after those customers of this criminal activity in an effort to deter them from coming into our community and engaging in these acts. We’re letting people know that, whereas in the past they might have simply gotten a citation, we’re going to be making arrests and those arrests will be public and people will be charged criminally and there will be consequences for their actions if they engage in this activity… There are a number of different problems that we’ve identified, and law enforcement professionals who have come together to work on this have concluded that the best way, right now, for us to try to tackle it would be to go after the customers. I think if people know that there is a possibility that they will get more than a summary citation, that they will be arrested and it will be a public arrest… that may discourage them from coming in to the community in the first place.”
The plan included shaming: Arrest information, including photographs of offenders, will be released to the public. Prostitution and patronizing prostitutes are third-degree misdemeanors for first-time offenders and the maximum penalty upon conviction is up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Penalties increase for repeat offenders.
According to media reports of the announcement, the plan involves the District Attorney working initially with police in Upper Merion and Montgomery Townships because those areas are home to numerous hotels that are often used for commercial sex in order to shield their actions from public view and law enforcement. The enforcement initiative is a response to complaints from the public and business community about prostitution activities that occur at hotels, which fuels other crimes with detrimental impacts on the community. The public has been asked by the D.A.’s office to report suspicious activity to local police.
In April 2014, the Montgomery Township Police Department and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office coordinated efforts to conduct a web-based reverse sting. Officers staged the operation in the Montgomeryville section of the township, and placed decoy listings online advertising prostitution services. Ten men were arrested as a result. In a press release, the MTPD reported that “the advertisement received hundreds of responses via text messages and phone calls where individuals allegedly agreed to pay money for the advertised services.”
In November, 2019, two undercover operations targeting prostitution in Montgomery County, and lead to the arrest of nine men from Philadelphia, Bucks County as well as from Montgomery County. The men answered online advertisements planted by detectives for prostitution services. Hundreds of men reportedly called or texted the undercover investigators and arranged a time and location, and finalized a price for sexual services. Arrest were made upon arrival at locations in Horsham Township and Montgomery Township. Police charged each man with third-degree patronizing a prostitute.
- Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office
- Montgomery Township Police Department
- Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office
- Demand-Focused Anti-Prostitution Initiative:
- “Montco DA Hoping ‘John’ Stings Will Cut Down on Prostitution in County”, CBS/KYW-TV 3, February 21 2014.
- “Montco D.A. Unveils Crackdown on Illegal Sex Trade”, Montgomery News, February 21 2014.
- “Montgomery County District Attorney Unveils Crackdown on Illegal Sex Trade”, Norristown Times Herald, February 21 2014.
- “Sex Crimes to Receive More Attention in Montco, Police Say”, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 23 2014.
- Web-Based Reverse Stings and Shaming:
- “10 Men Arrested in Montgomery Township Prostitution Sting”, Lansdale Reporter, April 14 2014.
- “10 Men Arrested in Montgomery Township Prostitution Sting”, Norristown Times Herald, April 14 2014.
- “10 Suspects Arrested in Montco Sting Operation”, FOX/WTXF-TV 29, April 14 2014.
- “Ten Arrests in Montgomery Township Prostitution Sting”, Lansdale Reporter, April 14 2014.
- “Ten Men Arrested in Montgomery Township Prostitution Sting”, Montgomery News, April 16 2014.
- https://www.fox29.com/news/prosecutors-prostitution-sting-in-montgomery-county-leads-to-arrest-of-nine-men (2019)