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Union County is a county of approximately 45,000 residents in central Pennsylvania, situated about 30 miles southeast of Williamsport and 60 miles north of Harrisburg. The county seat is Lewisburg, PA. Instances of prostitution and sex trafficking have been well-documented in incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county. This activity and its ancillary crimes, have generated residential complaints to local law enforcement. For example, in May of 2012, the Pennsylvania State Police conducted an investigation into a local massage parlor suspected of serving as a front for prostitution and related activity. As a result of the investigation, three women were arrested by officials after having allegedly offered sex acts to undercover agents after massages. According to reports, the same massage parlor was closed down by police in 2010 for similar offenses. Among the more serious issues associated with the local commercial sex market is child sex trafficking.
In effort to reduce prostitution and sex trafficking activity and harms in the city, law enforcement has deployed various demand reduction tactics. For example, in 2018, the Union County District Attorney’ Office and the Union County Sheriff’s Office conducted a joint operation focused on combating commercial sex in the area. The operation coincided with efforts made by the National “John” Suppression Initiative, PA Alliance Against Trafficking in Humans: Route 15 Project, and other community agencies. District Attorney and sheriff’s deputy, Detective Jacob Brown-Schields, posted decoy advertisements on websites known for prostitution activity. According to reports, more than 25 individuals responded to the decoy ad, seeking sexual services as well as multiple people offering sex in exchange for money. As a result of the investigation, three men were arrested are having allegedly responded to the advertisement and used text messaging to arrange to meet who they believed to be a prostituted woman at a Lewisburg motel. In addition, two of the offenders separately admitted to traveling to the hotel with the intent to engage in commercial sex with a prostituted woman. The third defendant reported to officials that he should have been more careful. All three male sex buyers were charged with patronizing prostitution, a misdemeanor count, and summary disorderly conduct. In addition, one offender was also charged with driving with a suspended license, a summary count.
In October, 2021, the Union County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI similarly conducted a joint online operation in Lewisburg, targeting individuals seeking to sexually exploit children in exchange for money. As a result of the investigation, three men were detained on charges of attempted enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity and prostitution. All three men were indicted on charges of attempted enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity and prostitution, three days after they were detained by law enforcement. In December of 2021, further information about the case revealed that offenders had responded to decoy ads on the website “Skip the Games,” and arranged to meet who they believed to be a 13-year-old girl in Lewisburg. The offenders, who had actually been in communication with law enforcement, were arrested upon their arrival to the predetermined location. The cases were brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. The identities of arrested offenders were included in reports by local media outlets.
In July 2019, 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 sex buyers versus prostituted persons) during calendar year 2018. The report’s data comes from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, and during 2018 there were three arrested sex buyers in Union 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.
- Union County Sheriff’s Office
- Columbia County Sheriff’s Office
- Lewisburg Police Department
- Pennsylvania State Police
- U.S. Department of Justice Middle District
- PA Alliance Against Trafficking in Humans: Route 15 Project
- Union County District Attorney’ Office
- Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law’s Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE)
- National “John” Suppression Initiative
- Other community organizations
Web-Based Reverse Sting, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.dailyitem.com/three arrested-in-valley-prostitution-sting (2018)
- 3 arrested in prostitution sting (2018)
- https://cseinstitute.org/Report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation In PA Spring-2019-Villanova (2019)
- https://www.pennlive.com/three-detained-in-federal-child-prostitution-sting-operation-in-central-pennsylvania.html (2021)
- https://www.pennlive.com/perry-county-man-charged-in-a-child-prostitution-sting-to-remain-in-jail-for-now (2021)
- https://www.northcentralpa.com/federal-agents-arrest-three-men-during-federal-child-prostitution-sting/article (2021)
- https://www.northcentralpa.com/three-men-indicted-for-alleged-child-prostitution/article (2021)
- https://www.pennlive.com/text-messages-cited-as-reason-not-to-release-pa-man-nabbed-in-fbi-child-prostitution-sting.html (2022)
Background on Local Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:
- Two indicted after prostitution probe (1956)
- 11 are charged in drug-sex case at Lewisburg prison (1986)
- https://www.dailyitem.com/hree-charged-in-lewisburg-area-prostitution-sting (2012)
- Suspected hookers to face judge (2013)
- https://www.dailyitem.com/news/local_news/sting-leads-to-prostitution-charges-in-union-county (2016)
- https://www.explorejeffersonpa.com/breaking-news-two-more-sex-trafficking-suspects-busted-five-accused-predators-arrested-in-five-days/ (2019)
- https://www.dailyitem.com/sting-leads-to-prostitution-charges-in-union-county/article (2022)