Chester County, PA
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Chester County, colloquially known as Chesco, is a county of roughly 535,000 residents in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. The county seat and most populated municipality is West Chester, PA. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity has been well-documented in incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county. This activity and its ancillary crimes have resulted in complaints to local law enforcement from residents and businesses. Reports of violence, drugs, physical and sexual assault, and robbery are often reported occurring during commercial sex transactions. For example, in March 2008, the wife of then-director of Chester County’s Department of Emergency Services was among five women arrested during a prostitution sting in Philadelphia, PA. The Philadelphia police’s undercover operation that ended with the arrest of the CCDES’s wife and five other alleged prostituted women began when a male sex buyer complained to police in February 2008, that he had been robbed at knifepoint by a man just before meeting with a prostituted woman inside a city hotel. According to police reports, the robber reportedly stole $120 from the male sex buyer. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is sex trafficking of adults and minors. For example, in 2001, a large scale prostitution ring was discovered in Chester County by PSP troopers. Officers subsequently conducted an investigation and obtained information based on community complaints, surveillance, and undercover communication with suspects. As a result of the operation, three male sex buyers were arrested on prostitution charges and three women were arrested for engaging in prostitution. Since the arrestees were not United States citizens, upon completion of their prison sentence they were deported.
In effort to combat commercial sex activity in the township and greater county areas, police have focused on reducing the demand for commercial sex by actively targeting sex buyers and sex traffickers in the community. For example, in 2008, the Chester County Sheriff’s Office and the Coatesville Police Department conducted a web-based reverse sting operation in Coatesville, PA, that resulted in the arrest of seven male sex buyers for soliciting prostitution. The names, ages, hometown, charges filed, and holding status of arrested sex buyers were released in news reports.
Sex buyers and sex traffickers have also been apprehended through alternative investigations and/or residential reports to local law enforcement. For example, in July 2020, law enforcement rescued a 14-year-old girl from a local sex trafficking ring, now dismantled. However, during a virtual press conference, Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said, “There is the potential for more victims out there.” According to reports, Chester County Detectives, the East Whiteland Township Police Department, and the Homeland Security Investigations rescued the minor victim from the parking lot of a Wawa in Malvern, PA on in late May 2020. The investigation was initiated after the 14-year-old sent a message via Facebook to her mother stating, “I don’t want to be here anymore.” Investigators said the victim had been held for several weeks against her will and was sex trafficked throughout various locations in the area. The victim told police that she “was forced to have sex four to five times a day at three different East Whiteland Township locations and that if she didn’t that she and her mother would be killed.”
The minor stated that a 17-year-old female from Camden, N.J., “had originally recruited her at a party in Washington, D.C.” The DA’s office said after communicating through Snapchat, the 17-year-old asked the 14-year-old victim if she wanted to make money and then picked her up in Maryland with one of the co-defendants. The 14-year-old was then driven to an apartment in Malvern where she, “was forced to perform oral sex on one of the co-defendants as a means of ‘breaking’ and ‘testing’ her for the work she would be required to perform.” The victim also told police that the 17-year-old female and one of the co-defendants, “took pictures of her that were used to advertise that men could pay to have sex with her, and they took her to Walmart to buy ‘sexy clothes.'” The DA’s office said another co-defendant acted as a “doorman,” collecting money from sex buyers. She was also given a fake identity to use if anyone asked her name.
While interviewing witnesses regarding the sexual exploitation and abuse of Victim 1, law enforcement discovered a second victim — an 18-year-old, known as Victim 2, who said she had also been held against her will by the co-defendants in February and March of 2020. According to the DA’s office, the 18-year-old woman told police that she met a female through Snapchat who introduced her to one co-defendant on the premise he had a job for her working in a bar. The victim said she was picked up in Virginia and brought to East Whiteland Township where she, “was forced to have sex for money with many individuals.” Authorities said she was also sexually assaulted by one of the co-defendants and threatened with bodily harm if she attempted to leave. The 18-year-old was forced to ingest drugs on various occasions.
Police identified a trio of men suspected of being leaders of the sex trafficking operation, in addition other members. Members of the sex trafficking organization face an array of felony charges including trafficking in minors, involuntary servitude, criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, promoting prostitution, and related corrupt organization offenses. According to reports, the Malvern-based sex trafficking organization operated from February 2020 to May 2020,
“These codefendants engaged in a criminal conspiracy and criminal course of conduct by recruiting, enticing, soliciting, transporting, obtaining and maintaining individuals who they benefited from financially while they were subjected to sexual servitude, as well as other sexual assaults and criminal activity.”
It was unknown as of press time if the ring leaders were part of a larger transnational human trafficking cartel outside of their now dismantled network in East Whiteland. The DA’s office said other unidentified and unnamed individuals were involved. In a press conference, the Chester County DA reported while this is the first occurrence of a sex trafficking organization operating in the county for decades, community members should learn the signs of sex trafficking to further protect the county’s citizens, especially children,
“Chester County has not seen anything like this that I am aware of in decades. I know this behavior is more common in places like Philadelphia and other major cities. To my knowledge there is no other behavior like this, but again, these people were able to hide behind closed doors. We need to remain vigilant and keep our eyes open to protect our kids.”
In addition to arresting sex traffickers, five additional male sex buyers were taken into custody in East Whiteland for paying to sexually abuse the 14-year-old minor child and/or the 18-year-old victim in East Whiteland, authorities said. The identities, ages, and charges of the arrested sex traffickers and the five male sex buyers were included in reports by local media outlets.
Loss of employment is also a consequence of buying sex in the county. For example, in 2009, the Dean of Villanova Law School resigned from his position after being suspected as a sex buyer at a local residence serving as a front for prostitution. According to reports, the former dean had admitted to soliciting sex at the residence after police raided the home. In exchange for being charged, the former dean assisted officers with the investigation. The former dean’s identity was included in reports by local media outlets.
Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- Statistics prove prostitution is not a victimless crime (2007)
- “Vice Sting in Coatesville”, c, September 5 2007.
Sex Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:
- Two Chester County men charged for prostitution (1977)
- https://www.dailylocal.com/authorities-bust-human-sex-trafficking-ring-in-chester-county-girl-14-rescued (2020)
- https://www.wfmz.com/southeastern-pa/chester-county-officials-bust-sex-trafficking-ring (2020)
- https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/malvern-human-trafficking (2020)
- https://www.mychesco.com/human-sex-trafficking-ring-dismantled-in-chester-county/ (2020)
- https://www.fox29.com/8-charged-in-chester-county-sex-trafficking-bust (2020)
- https://www.inquirer.com/18th-street-gang-chester-county-sex-trafficking-philadelphia (2020)
- https://6abc.com/sex-trafficking-pennsylvania-east-whiteland-arrests-human-arrests-rescue (2020)
- https://cseinstitute.org/sex-trafficking-ring-unveiled-in-chester-county/ (2020)
- Human Sex Trafficking Organization Dismantled in Malvern (2020)
Employment Loss, Identity Disclosure:
Background on Local Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:
- Some new twists in the ‘oldest profession’ (1977)
- Two New York women accused of running prostitution ring at spa (1997)
- PSP Annual Report (2001)
- https://www.phoenixvillenews.com/chesco-des-heads-wife-charged-with-prostitution (2008)
- https://patch.com/pennsylvania/westchester/west-chester-man-arrested-kop-prostitution-sting-da (2016)
- https://www.dailylocal.com/caln-spa-workers-busted-for-prostitution/ (2019)
- Human Trafficking Awareness Webinars – Presenter Bios (2020)
- https://www.mychesco.com/coatesville-woman-guilty-of-burglary-robbery-and-prostitution/ (2021)
- https://www.pottsmerc.com/human-trafficking-hotline-established-for-chester-county/ (2022)
- https://patch.com/sex-trafficking-ringleaders-east-whiteland-land-decades-prison (2022)
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