Erie 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

Erie County is a county of approximately 273,000 residents located in western Pennsylvania, on Lake Erie. The largest city and county seat is 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. This activity and its ancillary crimes have resulted in complaints to local law enforcement from residents and businesses. For example, in November 1952, Erie police arrested two women and two men believed to be part of a downtown prostitution ring. Violence against individuals engaging in commercial sex, drugs, and rape of prostituted women have been reported to occur during commercial sex activity in the county. More recently, the county has experienced an increase in illicit massage businesses (IMBs) serving as fronts for brothels. Among the more serious issues associated with the county’s commercial sex market have been cases of child sex trafficking that 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 male sex buyers:  “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.” Since the late 1970s, street-level reverse stings have been conducted consistently. Additionally, 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.

In addition to street-level reverse stings, web-based reverse sting have been conducted in the county in response to the growing online commercial sex market. For example, in February 2014, an elected Crawford County constable was bound over to Erie County court on three felony and 19 misdemeanor charges involving the rape of a prostituted woman. He was initially arrested by Millcreek Township police in December 2013, when the victim reported that the she and the constable arranged to meet on several occasions for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex. The offender then used his office as a law enforcement officer to extort the sexual services by threatening to arrest the woman if she did not engage in commercial sex with him. In the fall of 2014, the offender was sentenced in Erie County Court of Common Pleas to 90 days to 12 months in jail. The judge sentenced the former constable in the aggravated range, “citing his position of authority as an elected law enforcement official at the time.” The former constable was scheduled go on trial in Erie County Court of Common Pleas in July 2014 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. But, on July 8, 2014, the offender entered a plea to three counts of patronizing prostitutes in a plea agreement with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. As a result of his arrest, he was suspended from duty by Crawford County Court of Common Pleas the same day as his Dec. 27, 2013, arrest. The former constable remained under suspension from all court activities in all counties, according to John Shuttleworth III, county court administrator.

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 sex buyers versus prostituted persons) 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 Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Neighborhood Action:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Pennsylvania
Type County
Population 272046
Comments are closed.