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Reading is a city in southeastern Pennsylvania with a population of approximately 95,000, near Allentown, PA. It is the largest city and government seat of Berks County, PA. The community has reported chronic problems with prostitution such as the robbery of sex buyers and targeted sexual assaults of prostituted women. Among the more serious issues associated with the commercial sex market in the county is the sex trafficking of adults and minors. Spurred by a series of high-profile cases, community members have formed advocacy groups such as the Berks Coalition Against Human Trafficking (BCAHT) and Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved (FREE) to help law enforcement identify and recover sex trafficking victims. Although the majority of victims have thus far been adult women from South Korea and China, child sex trafficking cases have also been documented in the city. For example, in November 2010, a child sex trafficking investigation in Reading led to the recovery of four child victims.
In July 2021, a long-term investigation into a sex trafficking ring culminated in the arrest of three individuals on numerous charges such as corrupt organizations, trafficking individuals, prostitution, and other related offenses. A tip given to the Pennsylvania State Police Organized Crime Unit helped investigators develop several leads and identify multiple victims starting in early 2020. A total of six female victims were rescued as a result of the investigation. In May of 2021, a grand jury was formed to review the investigation. It concluded that three suspects operated a corrupt organization involving the human trafficking of young women for the commercial sex trade. One was responsible for posting advertisements and communicating with sex buyers, while two others utilized drugs to lure some of the victims into prostitution, and subsequently as a means of control. In addition, anytime sex buyers exchanged money for sexual acts from the female victims, all payments were directly allocated to the sex traffickers. Among the charges the traffickers faced were:
- Corrupt Organizations (Felony 1)
- Trafficking in Individuals (F1)
- Criminal Attempt-Trafficking in Individuals (F1)
- Criminal Conspiracy-Trafficking in Individuals (F1)
- Involuntary Servitude (F1)
- Criminal Attempt-Involuntary Servitude (F1)
- Criminal Conspiracy-Involuntary Servitude (F1)
- Prostitution and Related Offenses (F3)
- Criminal Attempt-Prostitution and Related Offenses (F3)
- Criminal Conspiracy-Promoting Prostitution (F3)
- Criminal Use of Communication Facility (F3)
- Manufacture, Delivery, or Possession with Intent to Deliver or Manufacture of a Controlled Substance (F1)
- Simple Assault (Misdemeanor 2)
Efforts to combat local prostitution and sex trafficking have included the use of tactics designed to deter consumer-level demand for sexual exploitation. For example, the Reading Police Department has been conducting reverse stings on a periodic basis since at least 1976, if not earlier. At times, audio and video surveillance have been utilized to document interactions between sex buyers and undercover officers. Complaints from residents are one of the key reasons police conduct prostitution operations. According to RPD representatives surveyed for the National Assessment in 2012, the city conducts about three or four reverse stings per year. They have also stated that they have sent “Dear John” letters to the registered owners of the cars seen circling areas known for prostitution, or when vehicles have been used to solicit sex from prostituted persons. The “Dear John” letters are intended to be educational rather than accusatory. Additionally, the RPD has been releasing the identities of arrested sex buyers to local media outlets since 1995.
Loss of employment is also a consequence of buying sex in the city. For example, in 2012, a former Reading police officer was arrested during an investigation into a sex trafficking operation in the city. According to Federal investigators, the offender helped arrange sexual encounters with known prostituted women. The former officer was suspended from the police force and fired by City Council as a result of his arrest. His identity was included in reports by local media outlets.
Public education has also been used to deter sex buyers in the city. For example, a nonprofit organization, Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved (FREE), has engaged in educational activities that focus on the need to reduce demand for commercial sex, among other topics. For example, they hope to reduce demand by educating men about the negative conditions and outcomes of those working in commercial sex.
- Reading Police Department
- Allentown Police Department
- Berks County Sheriff’s Office
- Berks Coalition Against Human Trafficking (BCAHT)
- Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved (FREE)
- Berks Women in Crisis
- Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation
- Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts
- Wyomissing Borough Police Department
National Assessment Survey and Interviews (2012)
Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Reading Red-Light District Losing Its Pros and Johns,” Reading Eagle, January 26 1988.
- “Prostitution Persistent, Costly Problem,” Reading Eagle, September 6 2002.
- “City and State Police Arrest 12 in Prostitution Roundup,” Reading Eagle, July 13 2007.
- “Prostitution Sting Results in 7 Arrests of Men on 2nd Day; Police Say the Defendants Offered to Pay for Sex with Four Female Police Officers Disguised as Prostitutes,” Reading Eagle, July 14 2007.
“Dear John” Letters:
- “Letters from the Law List Drivers’ Activities: When Someone Is Seen Cruising Areas Known for Prostitution, Police Notify the Registered Owner of the Vehicle’s Recent Whereabouts,” Reading Eagle, June 16 2007.
- “John Letters Remain Part of Fight vs. Prostitution: Reading Police Don’t Know If Correspondence Sent to Owners of Vehicles Believed to Be Trolling for Prostitutes Is Having an Impact,” Reading Eagle, September 1 2008.
Employment Loss, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.wfmz.comformer-cop-charged-in-sex-trafficking-case/ (2012)
- https://archives.fbi.gov/former-reading-police-officer-arrested-in-connection-with-sex-trafficking-case (2012)
- https://www.inquirer.com/Police_officer_charged_in_prostitution_ring. (2012)
Background on Local Sex Trafficking:
- “Eleven Now Charged in Reading Sex Case,” Allentown Morning Call, January 19 1986.
- “2 Held in Prostitution of 2 Kidnapped Girls,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 22 1986.
- https://archives.fbi.gov/ (2010)
- “Former Reading Police Officer Sentenced in Connection with Sex Trafficking Case,” U.S. Federal News Service, September 26 2012.
- “Ex-School Counselor who Calls Himself ‘God’ Sentenced in Sex Trafficking,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 19 2015.
- “Allentown Man Admits Forcing Women into Sex Trafficking Ring,” Allentown Morning Call, October 30 2015.
- https://www.pottsmerc.com/2-reading-men-charged-in-a-drug–and-human-trafficking-ring (2021)
- https://www.wfmz.com/3-charged-in-reading-area-human-trafficking-ring/ (2021)
- https://www.justice.gov/co-founder-and-leader-violent-drug-and-sex-trafficking-gang-called-sevens-sentenced (2023)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Prostitution Report Studied,” Reading Eagle, October 3 1966.
- “Robberies Rise as Prostitution Falls in Reading Police,” Allentown Morning Call, April 24 1986.
- “Prostitutes with AIDS May Face New Charges; Reading Police Consider Arrests for Recklessly Endangering Others,” Allentown Morning Call, February 14 1987.
- “Prostitution Suspects to Get Checkups,” Reading Eagle, April 3 1987.
- “Prostitution Suspect Charged,” Reading Eagle, May 5 1987.
- “Five Suspects Arrested in Prostitution Sweep,” Reading Eagle, September 2 1988.
- “Police Breakup 25-Year-Old Prostitution Ring in Central Pa.,” Gettysburg Times, July 5 1997.
- “Prostitution Sting,” Reading Eagle, May 28 1998.
- Reading – Prostitution Sting (1998)
- “Six Arrested in Prostitution Roundup,” Reading Eagle, November 9 2003.
- “City Police Charge 5 Prostitution Suspects,” Reading Eagle, May 10 2008.
- “10 Women Arrested on Prostitution Charges during Sweep,” Reading Eagle, March 22 2012.
- “Reading Police Arrest 5 Women on Prostitution Charges,” Reading Eagle, August 3 2012.
- “4 Women Arrested during Prostitution Detail,” Reading Eagle, January 22 2013.
- “Six Women Arrested in Reading Prostitution Sting,” Reading Eagle, August 14 2014.
- https://www.wfmz.com/reading-police-bust-8-women-in-undercover-prostitution-sting (2015)
- https://www.readingeagle.com/5-women-arrested-in-reading-in-prostitution-sting (2017)
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
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