Lancaster County, PA

Tactics Used

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

Lancaster County is located in southeast Pennsylvania. Lancaster is the county seat and largest city in Lancaster County. Prostitution has a long history in the county, as documented in historical documents dating back to the 1880s and through Temperance efforts to abolish the open trade in brothels in the early 1900s. In contemporary times, prostitution has posed persistent and visible problems in the area, and has generated numerous complaints to police. The community has also documented cases of sex trafficking of minors, and targeted homicides of women selling sex. For example, in November 2013 a 17-year-old girl was among seven people charged in a prostitution investigation at motels along Route 30 in East Lampeter Township. Two alleged pimps were among those also arrested in the investigation. The juvenile was released to her parents. Officials said prostitution has long been an issue along the Route 30 strip, particularly in inexpensive motel rooms, and that the problem has grown in recent years.

To reduce demand for commercial sex, the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office has worked with local police departments to incorporate the use of street-level reverse stings since the early 1990s.  Operations involve the use of an undercover female officer as a decoy. When johns solicit sex from the officer, they are promptly arrested. Police often release arrestees’ names, ages, photos, and other identifying information to the local media.

In March 2014, seven people were charged in a sting operation at hotels in East Lampeter Township; four males were charged with misdemeanor patronizing prostitution, and their identities were released to news outlets. A similar operation by East Lampeter Township Police at hotels in the community resulted in the arrest of seven men who were charged with Patronizing Prostitutes. In June 2015, a female undercover Lancaster PD officer posed as a decoy “in a neighborhood where residents reported prostitution and illegal behavior,” apprehending nine johns in the process. All of the arrestees’ names ran in press. Similar operations in July and October of 2018 produced the arrest of 10 and 9 sex buyers, respectively, in reverse stings conducted in various sections of the county. In November, 2016 seven men were charged in a Lancaster County web-based prostitution sting at hotels in East Lampeter Township. The encounters occurred in neighborhoods that are regularly frequented by actual street level prostitutes that often occur in residential neighborhoods. Authorities say prostitution is an ongoing problem in Lancaster County, and is directly linked to drug and alcohol addiction affecting both prostitutes and customers.

In July, 2019 the fourth annual 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 year 2018. The report’s data comes from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, and during 2018 there were 21 arrested sex buyers in Lancaster 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 Partners

  • Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office
  • Lancaster Police Department
  • East Lampeter Township Police Department

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings and Shaming:

Sex Trafficking in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Pennsylvania
Type County
Population 542903
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