Berks County, PA

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Berks County is a county of approximately 429,000 residents, located in eastern Pennsylvania. The county’s seat and largest city is Reading, PA. Prostitution and sex trafficking are persistent and visible problems in the area. Among the more serious issues associated with the commercial sex market in the county is sex trafficking. 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 sex trafficking victims. Although the majority of victims have thus far been adult women from South Korea and China, child sex trafficking cases have also been documented in the county. For example, in November 2010, a child sex trafficking investigation in Reading led to the recovery of four child sex trafficking victims.

In July 2021, a long term investigation into a sex trafficking ring culminated in the arrest of three individuals on numerous charges such as corrupt organizations, trafficking individuals, prostitution, and other related offenses. A tip to the Pennsylvania State Police Organized Crime Unit helped investigators develop several leads and to identify multiple victims starting in early 2020. A total of six female victims were rescued as a result of the investigation. In May of 2021, a grand jury was formed to review the investigation. It concluded that three suspects operated a corrupt organization involving human trafficking of young women for the commercial sex trade. One was responsible for posting advertisements and communicating with sex buyers while two others utilized drugs to lure some of the victims into prostitution, and subsequently as a means of control. In addition, anytime sex buyers exchanged money for sexual acts from the female victims, all payments were directly allocated to the sex traffickers. Among the charges the traffickers faced were:

  • Corrupt Organizations (Felony 1)
  • Trafficking in Individuals (F1)
  • Criminal Attempt-Trafficking in Individuals (F1)
  • Criminal Conspiracy-Trafficking in Individuals (F1)
  • Involuntary Servitude (F1)
  • Criminal Attempt-Involuntary Servitude (F1)
  • Criminal Conspiracy-Involuntary Servitude (F1)
  • Prostitution and Related Offenses (F3)
  • Criminal Attempt-Prostitution and Related Offenses (F3)
  • Criminal Conspiracy-Promoting Prostitution (F3)
  • Criminal Use of Communication Facility (F3)
  • Manufacture, Delivery, or Possession with Intent to Deliver or Manufacture of a Controlled Substance (F1)
  • Simple Assault (Misdemeanor 2)

Although police tactics have historically targeted prostituted women rather than sex buyers, in more recent years, the Berks County Sheriff’s Office has incorporated the use of reverse stings to intercept sex buyers. For example, in 2021, two men from Berks County were arrested as a result of a two-part web-based reverse sting operation, with the first operation occurring in June of 2021 and the second operation occurring in September of 2021. Both the June and the September operations focused on targeting individuals seeking to engage in commercial sex online. As a result of arrest, police released the identities and photos of the arrested sex buyers.

In July 2019, the fourth annual report by the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Pennsylvania was released. The report presented county-level data on arrests for purchasing sex in Pennsylvania (the state has separate statutes for sex buyers versus prostituted persons) 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.

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Pennsylvania
Type County
Population 428849
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