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Lehigh County is located in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. Its population is about 376,000, 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 result 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 have 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. Prostitution related violence within the county is also well documented. For example, in June 2019, a man arranged to meet with a prostituted woman at an Upper Saucon Township motel, but was beaten and robbed of his phone, wallet, and vehicle by the alleged “service provider and her male companion.”
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, what 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 prostitution 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 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 arresting as many as 16 sex buyers in a single evening. Police have at times released arrestees’ names and other identifying information to the local media. Police have posted decoy advertisements online and arranged to meet those who responded to the listing at a local hotel. In one operation, five male sex buyers were arrested in just under six hours. In December 2012, a second sting was conducted with similar success– 8 were arrested. In April 2013, the CRPD conducted a “combination” web sting, resulting in the arrest of 10 male buyers (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 came 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.
- Colonial Regional Police Department (CRPD)
- Bethlehem Township Police Department
- Hanover Township Police Department
- Allentown Police Department
Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Policewomen Posing as Prostitutes Arrest 35 Men in Allentown, Pa.”, New York Times, August 15 1977.
- “Prostitution Crackdown Nets Eight More Men”, Allentown Morning Call, October 4 1985.
- “24 Men Charged in Prostitution Crackdown”, Allentown Morning Call, March 2 1985.
- “Police: 16 Are Charged with Soliciting Decoy Prostitutes”, Allentown Morning Call, November 14 1985.
- “Allentown Police Charge 26 Men with Prostitution”, Allentown Morning Call, June 12 1986.
- “Allentown Vice Squad Arrests 22 Men in Prostitution Sweep”, Allentown Morning Call, July 15 1986.
- “In Prostitution, the Customer Isn’t Always Right”, Allentown Morning Call, July 20 1986.
- “Civilian Women Used as Prostitute Decoys in City Vice Arrests”, Allentown Morning Call, July 24 1986.
- “Police Say 3 Sought Sex for Pay from Decoys”, Allentown Morning Call, September 24 1986.
- “10 Men Are Charged in Crackdown on Prostitution”, Allentown Morning Call, August 17 1988.
- “Allentown Police Charge Men with Sex Offenses”, Allentown Morning Call, October 19 1988.
- “Allentown Vice Squad Arrests Five More Men”, Allentown Morning Call, October 21 1988.
- “18 Men Are Arrested on Prostitution-Related Charges in Allentown”, Allentown Morning Call, May 19 1989.
- “13 Arrested in Allentown on Prostitution-Related Charges”, Allentown Morning Call, October 7 1989.
- “10 Charged in Allentown Prostitution Roundup by Police”, Allentown Morning Call, November 4 1989.
- “Bethlehem Police Arrest 9 on Prostitution Charges”, Allentown Morning Call, February 25 1989.
- “Bethlehem Police Arrest 5 on Prostitution Charges”, Allentown Morning Call, October 10 1989.
- “5 Cited With Soliciting Bethlehem ‘Prostitute’”, Allentown Morning Call, January 16 1990.
- “Bethlehem”, Allentown Morning Call, February 27 1990.
- “Bethlehem Police Charge 8 with Prostitution”, Allentown Morning Call, May 22 1990.
- “Police Charge 7 with Prostitution”, Allentown Morning Call, April 9 1991.
- “City Police Arrest 9 Men in ‘John’ Sting”, Allentown Morning Call, June 15 1993.
- “6 Men Accused of Soliciting Sex”, Allentown Morning Call, September 27 1994.
- “2 Men Charged in Prostitution Sting”, Allentown Morning Call, June 21 1995.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets Four Men”, Allentown Morning Call, September 20 1995.
- “Eight Men Charged in Prostitution Sting; Bethlehem”, Allentown Morning Call, October 22 1997.
- “Five Arrested During ‘John’ Sting; Bethlehem”, Allentown Morning Call, August 19 1999.
- “Four Men Arrested in Prostitution Sting; Bethlehem”, Allentown Morning Call, November 20 1999.
- “Bethlehem Ex-Officer, Second Man Face Prostitution Charges”, Allentown Morning Call, October 14 2000.
- “Prostitution Sting Results in 16 Arrests in City”, Allentown Morning Call, September 29 2001.
- “20 Men Arrested for Trying to Procure Prostitutes”, Allentown Morning Call, November 3 2001.
- “Seven Men Accused of Soliciting Prostitution”, Allentown Morning Call, June 24 2002.
- “16 Are Arrested in Allentown Prostitution Sweep; Complaints about Men Harassing Women on Street Prompt Action”, Allentown Morning Call, June 25 2002.
- “Undercover Officers Net 12 in Prostitution Sting”, Allentown Morning Call, May 25 2003.
- “13 Men are Charged in Prostitution Sting”, Allentown Morning Call, June 29 2003.
- “Eight Men Are Snared in Prostitution Sting”, Allentown Morning Call, September 7 2003.
- “Prostitution Charges Filed Against Nine”, Allentown Morning Call, October 22 2003.
- “Police Arrest 5 Men in Prostitution Sting”, Allentown Morning Call, November 24 2004.
- “Police Officers Hook 9 in City”, Allentown Morning Call, July 19 2008.
- “12 Arrested in ‘Operation Afternoon Delight’; Sting in Allentown Prompted after Reports of Solicitation”, Allentown Morning Call, March 7 2009.
- “Men Busted in Allentown Prostitution Sting”, Allentown Morning Call, July 15 2010.
- “Police Bust 14 in Prostitution Sting”, Allentown Morning Call, September 11 2010.
- “Like Bees to Honey, Police Bust 13 Men in Prostitution Sting”, Allentown Morning Call, May 6 2011.
- “Allentown Police Arrest 11 in Prostitution Sting”, Allentown Morning Call, December 7 2012.
- “Five Alleged Johns Charged in Internet Prostitution Sting”, Allentown Morning Call, February 22 2012.
- “8 Arrested in Connection with Prostitution Sting; Former Lower Nazareth Official Among the Accused”, WFMZ-TV 69, December 17 2012.
- “Lehigh Valley Prostitution Sting Ensnares 16, Police Say”, Easton Express-Times, April 22 2013.
- “Allen Township Man Charged during Colonial Regional Police Prostitution Sting,” Easton Express-Times, June 17 2013.
- http://cseinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/CSE-Institute-Report-on-CSE-in-Pennsylvania.pdf (2016)
- https://cseinstitute.org/Report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Pennsylvania (2018)
Background on Sex Trafficking and Prostitution in the Area:
- “Connecticut Man Charged with Paying Girl for Sex”, Allentown Morning Call, July 13 2005.
- “Court Upholds Sentence for Man Who Paid Bethlehem Girl, 14, for Sex”, Allentown Morning Call, July 6 2011.
- “12-Year-Old Testifies Against Sex Offender”, Bethlehem Patch, December 19 2012.
- “Men Prostituted Underage Girl out of Lehigh Valley Motel, Police Say,” Easton Express-Times, November 12 2014.
- “Easton Man Allegedly Pimped Women in Local Motels, Took All Their Money,” Allentown Morning Call, June 5 2015.
- https://cseinstitute.org/Report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Pennsylvania
- https://www.tapinto.net/elizabeth-man-charged-with-possession-caught (2017)
- https://www.wfmz.com/news/area/lehighvalley/three-arrested-in-prostitution-sting-at-allentown-hotel (2019)
- https://thebrownandwhite.com/lv-sex-trafficking-victim-shares-her-story (2022)
Documented Violence Among Those Engaged in Prostitution: