Northampton 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

Northampton County, Pennsylvania is located in the Lehigh Valley area, and has a population of about 300,000.  The county seat is the city of Easton, and other substantial cities and townships include Bethlehem Township, Bethlehem, Palmer Township, Hanover Township  All of these communities have reported serious problems related to prostitution– particularly sex sales occurring at township motels and hotels. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is the endangerment of children brought along in prostitution transactions, and adult and child sex trafficking.

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, the Easton Police Department conducted its first street-level reverse sting in June 1988, resulting in the arrest of 37 johns. Frequent, small-scale john stings continued through the mid-1990s, with officers averaging 3 to 5 arrests in a single operation. Since 1988, arrestees’ names have been publicized in local media outlets. Easton police report that street prostitution remains visible in some Easton neighborhoods, and cases of sex trafficking have been documented. In 2008, city officials tried to ameliorate the problems by focusing on demand. The city established an ordinance that allows local law enforcement to seize the vehicles of individuals arrested for solicitation. Under the ordinance, vehicles may not only be seized but also sold at auction, with the proceeds given to the city. Soon after its enactment, the policy was challenged in a lawsuit against the Easton Police Department, when an arrested john alleged that the value associated with a forfeited vehicle often exceeded the “maximum fine allowable” for a solicitation offense. Soon after, a court demanded all seized vehicles be returned. Easton police continue to encourage (and participate in ongoing dialogue with) local Neighborhood Watch programs to report any and all suspected prostitution activity, and have installed surveillance cameras in known problem areas.

The first known operation in Palmer Township was conducted in November 2013, in response to complaints from staff at a local motel.  There was a reported local increase in several types of crime in mid-2013, including prostitution, drug activity, theft from rooms, and a robbery at the front desk. Palmer Township Police Department responded by deploying a “Suppress Prostitution and Related Crimes” operation at the motel. Eight men and seven women were charged with crimes including prostitution, patronizing a prostitute, and possession of controlled substances. The number of johns arrested was not identified in news reports.  Assisting Palmer Township police in the operation were police from nearby Bethlehem Township and Forks Township, Colonial Regional Police, the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office (who sent an undercover female deputy to serve as a decoy prostituted woman), the Allentown office of the FBI, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In December 2018, another reverse sting resulted in the arrest of five male sex buyers in Palmer Township, and their identities were included in news releases. The men, responding to an online advertisement placed by police, and each made an arrangement via phone to meet at a township location and provided $100 to an undercover police officer creating a “verbal agreement of sexual activity.” Once the agreement was made, each man was taken into custody, police said. The men were identified and eventually released to await mailed court papers showing arraignments and preliminary hearings scheduled January, 2019 in District Court.  All the charges were third-degree misdemeanors, indicating first offenses.

In their efforts to reduce local prostitution activity, the Bethlehem Township Police Department has conducted at least two reverse stings targeting sex buyers. Both operations were staged at local hotels, with the consent and cooperation of hotel staff. While the details of the first operation, conducted in July 2013, were not disclosed (although we do know that nine johns were arrested as a result), officers provided some insight into the logistics of the second operation. In March 2014, the BTPD placed decoy advertisements both offering and requesting commercial sex to a website known for prostitution. As individuals responded to the listing, undercover officers arranged to meet the men and women at a nearby hotel. Three johns, two women offering acts of prostitution, and one pimp were arrested as a result; all of the arrestees had their names, ages, and addresses released to the public.

On at least one occasion, law enforcement have also encountered minor children present during commercial sex transactions in the Township. In November 2015, media outlets reported that a pimp from nearby Freemansburg had allegedly brought his 7-year-old son when dropping off a woman to what he thought was a prostitution encounter (but was in fact an undercover sting). In December of that year, the man was sentenced to nine to 23 months in prison for promoting prostitution and endangering the welfare of a child. His identity was publicized heavily in press, but is not reported here to protect the anonymity of the minor child.

In July 2018, the third annual Report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Pennsylvania by Villanova University’s Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE Institute), Northampton was one of 10 Pennsylvania counties in which the number of individuals charged with violations of the state’s sex buying statute (§ 5902(e)) outnumbered the charged with violations of § 5902(a) for providing commercial sex since the state criminal code created separate offenses for buying and selling sex in 2014.  The 10 counties were : Adams, Beaver, Bradford, Centre, Franklin, Lebanon, McKean, Mercer, Monroe, and Northampton.

In March, 2019, five men were arrested and charged after an undercover prostitution and sex trafficking sting at a Northampton County hotel in Hanover Township, according to Colonial Regional police. Police said the hotel is working with police to combat prostitution and authorities have agreed not to disclose the hotel’s name. The men were charged with patronizing a prositute. All agreed to perform sex acts with an undercover female police officer for money.

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 eight sex buyers arrested in Northampton 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

  • Bethlehem Township Police Department
  • Colonial Regional Police Department
  • Bethlehem Township Police Department
  • Palmer Township Police Department
  • Forks Township Police Department
  • Northampton County Sheriff’s Department
  • FBI
  • Department of Homeland Security

Key Sources

Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Auto Seizure:

Neighborhood Action:

Child Endangerment:

  • “Freemansburg Man Admits Taking Son, 7, to Prostitution Rendezvous,” Allentown Morning Call, November 19 2015.
  • “Freemansburg Pimp who Brought 7-Year-Old Son to Undercover Sting Sentenced,” Allentown Morning Call, December 18 2015.

Background on Local Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:

Prostitution-Related Violence in the County:

 

State Pennsylvania
Type County
Population 303405
Location
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