Lancaster 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

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 Prostitution has a long history in the county, as documented in historical documents dating back to the 1880s and through Temperance efforts to abolish the open trade in brothels in the early 1900s.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. In 2022, at least 30 arrests were made for human trafficking offenses throughout the county.

To reduce the demand for commercial sex drives all sex trafficking, 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 sex buyers 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 male sex buyers in the process. All of the arrestees’ names ran in press. Similar operations in July and October 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 prostituted persons and sex buyers.

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.

In 2022 the newly formed Lancaster County Human Trafficking Task Force has also begun to conduct operations specifically designed to combat the demand. For example, in March 2022, fourteen people were arrested in East Hempfield Township in the Lancaster County Human Trafficking Task Force’s first operation, according to the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office. The operation was a prostitution sting involving an online advertisement and an East Hempfield Township hotel, targeting people who “perpetuate the demand for human trafficking and prostitution,” the district attorney’s office said. An undercover female officer made contact with more than 100 people during the eight-hour operation. The people all had responded to the online ad and made arrangements to pay money for sexual activity, ranging from $80 to $200. The 14 who were arrested physically met with the undercover officer. The scores of additional contacts were made by phone. The identities of the arrested sex buyers were included in news releases about the operation. District Attorney Heather Adams said,

“The operation was directly aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex. Those who patronize prostitution in our community fuel traffickers who fill that demand with victims.” 

The fact that 100 people called shows that there’s a demand for this in Lancaster. So this is the first step. It’s attacking the demand. If the demand goes away, then there’s not going to be any place for the victims.”

One of the sex buyers pleaded guilty to patronizing charges and was sentenced him to one year of probation and ordered to complete online “John school” — a class “intended to educate people who solicit sex to prevent them from reoffending.” Depending on their cases, the other defendants were directed to perform community service for up to 40 hours, attend an online john school, and or serve a period of probation for one year. The charge of “patronizing prostitutes” in PA is a third-degree misdemeanor, which carries a fine of $250 to $5,000, or up to 90 days in prison or both, unless courts order modified charges or allow for diversion options such as conditional suspended or altered sentences if they comply with specified requirements, such as john schools or community service.

For the purposes of Demand Forum, we are not counting an online program of unknown origins and content as a “john school.”  Our examination of the structure and content of some of these online programs suggests they do not necessarily contain the elements of successful educational or treatment programming. It is possible for individuals to simply “click through” the material without engaging it at all, and does not offer the possibility of interactive engagement to process or challenge any offender’s individuals perceptions or meet individual needs.

In January 2023, the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office released data from its Human Trafficking Task Force (HTTF) one year after its creation. HTTF made 30 arrests in 2022, including sting operations on those soliciting prostitution and people soliciting minors for sexual activities. Police departments participating in the HTTF include East Hempfield Township, East Lampeter Township, Ephrata Police Department, Lancaster City Bureau of Police, Lancaster County Detectives, Lancaster County Sheriff’s Department, Lititz Borough, Manor Township, Northwest Regional, Pennsylvania State Police, and West Lampeter Township.

In February 2023, two men were arrested at a motel in East Lampeter Township after meeting an undercover female officer for what they thought was prostitution. The men had replied to online advertisements posted by the Lancaster County Human Trafficking Unit. Both were charged with one count of patronizing prostitutes and their identities were released to the press.

Key Partners

  • Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office
  • Lancaster Police Department
  • Lancaster County Human Trafficking Task Force
  • East Lampeter Township Police Department
  • Pennsylvania State Police
  • FBI

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Sting, Identity Disclosure:

Community Service:

Sex Trafficking in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Pennsylvania
Type County
Population 553652
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