Erie County, PA

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Erie County is a county located in Western Pennsylvania, on Lake Erie. It has a population of about 275,000, and the county seat is the city of Erie (the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania, with a population of approximately 100,000).  Documented cases of prostitution and sex trafficking in the county date back to the 1950s. For example, in November, 1952 Erie police arrest two women and two men believed to be part of a downtown prostitution ring.  Cases of sex trafficking minors in Erie date back to the early 1990s.

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.  The Erie County Sheriff’s Office has collaborated with municipal police departments on reverse stings as a demand control tactic, beginning in the 1970s.  In an associated press report from 1977, the Chief of Police in Erie explained a new focus on prostitution “customers:”  “We’ve been picking the girls up, but all they do is leave town and others take their place.  We’re trying to dry up their source of income.”  Reverse stings have continued since then.  Prostitution is still active on the streets as well as occurring is storefront brothels, such as massage parlors.  Erie has had very involved Neighborhood Watch programs that aid police in pinpointing areas of heavy prostitution.  In Pennsylvania, a single count of a prostitution charge is a misdemeanor, and multiple counts elevate the offense to the felony range.

Millcreek Township is another community in Erie County with well-documented problems with prostitution and sex trafficking, and consumer level demand has been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. For example, in 2013 an elected constable who acknowledged having consensual sex with a prostitute three times in the prior year was sentenced in Erie County Court of Common Pleas. The man was originally charged in Erie County with having forced the woman to have sex at a price he set under the threat of arrest.  He was scheduled go on trial in Erie County Court of Common Pleas on three counts each of rape by forcible compulsion, indecent assault by forcible compulsion, impersonating a public servant, official oppression, criminal solicitation of prostitution, and patronizing prostitutes; and one count of unlawful restraint. Instead, he entered a guilty plea to three counts of patronizing prostitutes in an agreement with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. Each patronizing a prostitute charge carried a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. He was arrested by Millcreek Township Police Department for allegedly raping a woman twice in Millcreek Township, and once at a motel on Route 97 in Summit Township in three different incidents.  Police accused the man of contacting the woman through an online ad, and, upon meeting her, showing his badge, handcuffs and gun and telling her he was an undercover detective investigating prostitution.

In the Spring of 2016 a 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 years 2014-2015. The report’s data comes from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, and during 2014-2015 there were four arrests in Erie 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 sex buyer arrests, since some cities and counties choose to handle such cases by issuing civil citations for violating local prostitution ordinances rather than charging with violating state criminal law.

Key Partners

  • Erie County Sheriff’s Office
  • Erie Police Department
  • Erie County District Attorney’s Office
  • Erie County Court of Common Pleas
  • Millcreek Township Police Department

Key Sources

Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Shaming:

Neighborhood Action:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Pennsylvania
Type County
Population 274541
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