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Washington County is located in northern Maryland, about 20 miles north of Martinsburg, WV and abutting Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity are well documented in the county, especially in Hagerstown (the county seat and its largest city) and surrounding areas. The county is also a stop for wider networks of human trafficking and prostitution operations, including Martinsburg WV and many communities in central Pennsylvania, such as Harrisburg, Wilkes Barre, and Scranton. During a summit on child sex trafficking in 2015, Washington County was described as one of several jurisdictions in Maryland that has become “a hub for the sexual human trafficking of children,” with the county’s proximity to Interstates 70 and 81 and truck stops in Hagerstown, Hancock and Greencastle, Pa., considered prime locations for offenders to recruit vulnerable victims for sex in exchange for money, drugs, food, shelter, car rides and cigarettes. In June 2017, the Maryland Department of Human Services announced that Washington County had the fourth-highest number of suspected juvenile sex-trafficking victims in Maryland, behind only Baltimore city and Prince George’s and Baltimore counties. Recent examples include a case in which a man was sentenced in 2018 to spend over a decade in prison for sex trafficking of a minor. In 2015, he transported a 15-year-old and 17-year-old girl from Pennsylvania to Maryland. He made each girl engage in sexual acts in hotels and kept the money they made. On June 16, 2015, Maryland State Police received a call from the 15-year-old victim’s father. He said his daughter was being held against her will at a hotel in Hagerstown. Troopers responded at the hotel, and found the man and the missing girl.
In June, 2021, a multi-agency police investigation and coordinated operation in Maryland netted at least 12 individuals suspected to be part of a criminal sex trafficking operation within Washington County. Of 19 subjects detained, seven were not charged and were placed into harm reduction programs by the Washington County Health Department. The remaining 12 individuals were charged. The Washington County Health Department were also part of the team effort with police agencies, assisting victims with harm reduction programs and other basic assistance. In addition to the dozen suspects charged in the operation, six more arrest warrants were served and suspected heroin and methamphetamine were recovered. The investigation was a coordinated effort between The Hagerstown Police Department, Washington County Sheriff’s Department, Maryland State Police computer crimes section, Maryland State Police child recovery unit and Washington County Health Department under the Maryland Criminal Intelligence Network (MCIN).
Among the tactics used to address problems driven by commercial sex are those focusing on consumer level demand. The Hagerstown Police Department and nearby law enforcement agencies have conducted street-level reverse stings since at least 1983. For example, in June 2018 five individuals were arrested in Hagerstown for allegedly attempting to buy sex. The names, ages, and addresses of those arrested are often reported in the news, with details about the operations. Punishments vary for men soliciting sex. If convicted, defendants can face up to one year in jail, a $500 fine or both, according to Maryland state code, and the penalties increase depending on whether the individual is accused of human trafficking or involves offenses against a minor. Typical sanctions include one year of probation, plus a fine of $200 to $300. Some of the men have been ordered to perform 40 hours of community service, in addition to fines and probation.
In June and August of 2019, the Hagerstown Police Department conducted two undercover operations that targeted human trafficking, street-level prostitution and internet-advertised prostitution. Officers targeted people involved in prostitution and solicitation for prostitution. Seventeen people were arrested, and their identities disclosed. The investigation was supported, in part, by funds provided by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.
Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Probation Given in Prostitution Cases”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, May 30 1997.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets 19 Arrests”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, November 2 1997.
- “Eight Men Charged in Prostitution Sting”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, March 19 1999.
- “City Police Charge 6 Men in Prostitution Sting”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, June 12 1999.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets Six Arrests”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, October 8 1999.
- “Man Charged with Solicitation in Sting”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, May 1 2000.
- “Police Say Sex Stings Starting”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, July 25 2000.
- “City Charges 11 in Sweep”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, September 7 2000.
- “Ex-Pastor Pleads to Solicitation”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, October 3 2000.
- “Second Man Pleads to Solicitation”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, October 5 2000.
- “Men Charged in Prostitution Sting”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, February 11 2001.
- “School Principal Facing Charges in Prostitution Sting”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, March 2 2001.
- “Police Charge Six in Prostitution Sting”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, May 21 2001.
- “School Principal Arrested for Soliciting Prostitute”, Gettysburg Times, July 23 2001.
- “Hagerstown Hookers, a Targeted Tradition?”, Washington Times, August 13 2001.
- “December Prostitution Stings Lead to 15 Arrests in Hagerstown”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, January 3 2002.
- “Three Charged Friday in Prostitution Sting”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, March 28 2002.
- “Police Arrest 3 People Following Argument”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, April 22 2002.
- “Four Arrested in City Prostitution Sting”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, April 29 2002.
- “Men Charged in Connection with Undercover Prostitution Sting”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, March 22 2006.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets Arrests in City”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, July 12 2006.
- “Police Step Up Efforts to Catch Solicitors”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, July 20 2006.
- “Prostitution Sting in City”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, July 20 2006.
- “Blast from the Past: Week of March 16, 1983”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, March 19 2008.
- “Police Arrest 6 in Prostitution Sting in Hagerstown,” Hagerstown Herald-Mail, September 5 2015.
- https://www.heraldmailmedia.com/prostitution-sting/ (2017)
- http://www.localdvm.com/news/6-arrested-after-prostitution-sting-in-hagerstown (2017)
- http://www.journal-news.net/news/local-news/2017/11/6-arrested-for-prostitution/ (2017)
- http://www.journal-news.net/news/local-news/2018/06/local-man-hit-with-prostitution-charge/ (2018)
Web-Based Reverse Stings:
- https://www.heraldmailmedia.com/two-men-charged-in-hagerstown-prostitution-sting/ (2018)
- https://www.heraldmailmedia.com/washington-county-residents-nabbed-in-prostitution-sting (2019)
- https://www.heraldmailmedia.com/12-arrests-made-in-sex-trafficking-prostitution-operation/ (2020)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Hagerstown Girl Held in Vice Probe”, Baltimore Sun, August 27 1937.
- “11 Held As White Slavers; FBI Makes Arrests Linked to Houses in Maryland”, New York Times, December 2 1947.
- “Ten Indicted in Connection with White Slave Ring”, Williamson Daily News, March 23 1948.
- “Arrest Made in Prostitution and Human Trafficking; Investigation on Prostitution and Human Trafficking Leads to Arrest,” NBC/WHAG-TV 4, February 18 2016.
- https://www.heraldmailmedia.com/task-force-targets-sex-trafficking-in-washington-county (2017)
- https://www.baltimoremagazine.com/sex-trafficking-is-maryland-dirty-open-secret (2017)
- http://www.localdvm.com/sex-trafficking-bust-in-hagerstown (2018)
- https://www.morganmessenger.com/police-operation-nets-sex-suspects-including-berkeley-springs-man/ (2021)
- https://www.heraldmailmedia.com/WA-county-MD-prevent-child-sex-trafficking-human-trafficking (2022)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Jury Reports on Vice Probe in Hagerstown”, Baltimore Sun, May 22 1948.
- “Prostitution on the Increase in Hagerstown”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, August 22 1997.
- “Residents Want Prostitutes Rousted”, Hagerstown Herald-Mail, August 27 1997.
- “Hagerstown Announces Prostitution Crackdown”, Baltimore Sun, July 25 2006.
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area: