Lehigh County, PA

Tactics Used

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

Lehigh County is located in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. Its population is about 370,000, and its county seat is Allentown, the state’s third-largest city behind Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Prostitution activity have been well-documented in the communities and unincorporated areas of the county, for decades. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses.For example, in Hanover Township, located near Bethlehem in Lehigh County, residents and local law enforcement had reported an increase in prostitution activity in recent years. The Colonial Regional Police Department (CRPD) received complaints about prostitution occurring in at least seven hotels in the township between 2010 and 2011. In response, the CRPD collaborated with the Bethlehem Township Police Department to conduct a web sting targeting sex buyers in February 2012. The operation was the first of its kind in the township, though police had conducted five prior web stings targeting prostituted women.

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, Allentown was identified by police to be on a “pimp circuit” in the 1970s and 1980s, and would now be called a domestic trafficking network. Other cities on the circuit included Harrisburg, Reading, Wilkes-Barre, and Scranton, and the network extended into upstate New York.  Allentown sex trafficking cases continue to be investigated and arrests made. For example, a private club was investigated in 2013, resulting in numerous arrests for prostitution and related offenses. Efforts to reduce local commercial sex and sex trafficking have included efforts to combat demand. In the 1970s, city law enforcement were among the first in the nation to target underlying demand for prostitution, conducting their reverse sting in 1977.  Scores of reverse stings yielding hundreds of arrests have followed. The identities of arrested sex buyers were and continue to be released to the media. The city began sending “Dear John” letters to the homes of arrestees in 1988.  The letters warned of health risks associated with engaging in prostitution.

In Bethlehem (a city of approximately 75,000 residents, located near Allentown and occupying both Lehigh and Northampton Counties), prostitution and sex trafficking cases have been reported in the area for years.  To address mounting complaints from residents, the Bethlehem Police Department began conducting street-level reverse stings in 1985. A series of operations was carried out in the 1990s, at times netting as many as 16 johns in a single evening.  Police have at times released arrestees’ names and other identifying information to the local media. Police have posted a decoy advertisement online and arranged to meet those who responded to the listing at a local hotel.  In one operation, in just under six hours five johns were arrested. In December 2012, a second sting was conducted with similar success– 8 johns were arrested. In April 2013, the CRPD conducted a “combination” web sting, resulting in the arrest of 10 johns (and 6 prostituted women). In the days after each operation, arrestees’ names and other identifying information were publicized in local media outlets.  In June 2013, a man was arrested for soliciting an undercover officer; it is not clear whether this was during a reverse sting, or more of an opportunistic arrest.

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 9 arrests in Lehigh 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

  • Colonial Regional Police Department (CRPD)
  • Bethlehem Township Police Department
  • Hanover Township Police Department
  • Allentown Police Department

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Shaming:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

State Pennsylvania
Type County
Population 366494
Location
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