Berks County is a county of approximately 410,000 residents, located in eastern Pennsylvania. Reading is the county’s seat and largest city. Prostitution is a persistent and visible problem in the area. Although police tactics have historically targeted prostituted women rather than their clients, in recent years the Berks County Sheriff’s Department has incorporated the use of street-level reverse stings to intercept sex buyers. Police may release the names and identifying information about arrested johns in an effort to deter sex buyers.
Sex trafficking has also become a major concern for Berks County residents. Spurred by a series of high profile cases, community members have formed advocacy groups such as the Berks Coalition Against Human Trafficking (BCAHT) and Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved (FREE) to help law enforcement identify and recover trafficking victims. Although the majority of victims have thus far been adult women from South Korea and China, a November 2010 bust in Reading found four minors working as sex slaves as well.
In July, 2019 the fourth annual report was released by the Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Pennsylvania at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. The report presented county-level data on arrests for purchasing sex in Pennsylvania (the state has separate statutes for buying versus selling sex) during calendar year 2018. The report’s data comes from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, and during 2018 there were three arrested sex buyers in Berks County that were charged under the statute for purchasing sex (18 Pa.C.S. § 5902(e)). It is important to note that there may have been larger numbers of arrested sex buyers, since some cities and counties may choose to handle such cases by issuing civil citations for violating prostitution ordinances in local courts or magistrate’s offices, rather than charging with a state criminal offenses in district courts.
- Reverse Stings:
- Sex Trafficking:
- Background on Prostitution in the Area: