Dauphin 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

Dauphin County, Pennsylvania has a population of roughly 278,000. Its county seat and the largest city is Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s state capital and ninth largest city. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented within the county. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is sex trafficking.

Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. For example, in Lower Swatara Township police have conducted at least one web-based reverse sting in the community, and the men arrested had their identities publicly disclosed.  In December 2017, at least two men were each charged with one count of soliciting a prostitute after being arrested in a web-based reverse sting conducted by several Dauphin County police departments.  The men were arrested at a local hotel, where they came to meet with an officer posing as a prostitute and agreed to buy sex. In Swatara Township police have conducted at least one web sting to identify and arrest local sex buyers. Police posted a decoy advertisement to Backpage.com (a now defunct website once noted for its facilitation of commercial sex sales), then used a woman officer to arrange meetings with the men who replied. As a result, two sex buyers were apprehended, and their names and other identifying information released to local media outlets. In Harrisburg, reverse sting have occurred up to 20 times per year and identifying information about those arrested has been reported in the media.  Arrested sex buyers can also have their vehicles seized. Since 2007, police have also conducted web based stings occasionally. There are also surveillance cameras and neighborhood watch programs in place to reduce the demand for prostitution in Harrisburg.

Some arrests of sex buyers are the result of investigating allegations of events with real victims of commercial sexual exploitation, rather than stings using undercover police decoys.  For example, in November, 2021, a local man called the police after a prostituted woman he hired attempted to leave.  The man pleaded guilty in front of a Magisterial District Judge for “patronizing a prostitute.” According to the Dauphin County District Attorney’s Office, the man found a woman through an online platform and paid her $200 for sex. Before the two engaged in any sexual activity, the woman tried to leave only to find the sex buyer blocking her exit. The man then called police with the impression he would not be charged for the incident. A state trooper arrived on scene and believed there to be signs of human trafficking. The DA’s office said the man, who was on state parole, was then put back in to the custody of the Department of Corrections. The name of the woman involved in the incident was withheld, but the identity of the sex buyer was publicly disclosed. The woman’s case has moved to the Dauphin County Human Trafficking Diversion Program, a program for sex/labor trafficking survivors, as she was thought to be a victim of human trafficking.

The arrest of sex buyers within Dauphin County has also been reported in the “Annual Reports on Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Pennsylvania” by Villanova University’s Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE Institute).  For example, in 2018, the third annual report reported that nine people were arrested and charged with violations of the state’s sex buying statute (§ 5902(e)) in Dauphin County between the time since the state criminal code created separate offenses for buying and selling sex in 2014 through 2017.

Key Partners

  • Lower Swatara Township Police Department
  • Swatara Township Police Department
  • Harrisburg Police Department

Key Sources

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:

Background on Local Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, Related Crimes:

State Pennsylvania
Type County
Population 277071
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