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Williamsport is a city in, and the county seat of, Lycoming County, PA, and has a population of approximately 29,000 residents. It is the principal city of the Williamsport Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has a population of about 114,000 residents. Due to the city’s location along the Route 15 highway, prostitution and sex trafficking are pervasive issues within the city and surrounding areas. According to officials, sex traffickers frequently stop in Williamsport, Lewisburg, and other towns between Harrisburg and New York state that are located along the Route 15 highway. Among the more serious issues associated with the city’s commercial sex market are child sex trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. For example, in 2019, a three-part series by On the Pulse, that provided an in-depth look at the in-roads of sex trafficking in Lycoming County, the easy access provided by Route 15, and resources for youth trafficking victims was released. Part three of the series was a survivor story detailing the experience of a local survivor of child sex trafficking. According to the report, the survivor was sexually exploited by her mother in exchange for drugs or money when she was 12-years-old.
In effort to reduce the demand for prostitution and sex trafficking in the city, local law enforcement has deployed various demand reduction tactics such as web-based reverse stings and public disclosure of identities. During these investigations, officials post decoy advertisements on websites known for prostitution activity and arrange to meet potential sex buyers, whereupon their arrival, sex buyers are arrested. Some investigations specifically focus on individuals seeking to sexually exploit minors in exchange for money. For example, in October, 2021, three men were arrested and indicted by a federal grand jury in Williamsport on the charge of attempted enticement of a minor. 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.
Local law enforcement has also apprehended sex buyers through alternative investigations and residential complaints to police. For example, in September 2021, a Williamsport man was arrested for allegedly attempting to solicit a woman for sex and sending her a threatening text message. City police alleged in affidavit that the offender texted the woman on September 10th, 2021, “I will pay you $200 not $150” for sexual acts, in addition to sending her a threatening message later that same day, “Don’t tell (anyone) or you will get hurt.” Police said that offender also stalked the woman, telling her by phone or in text messages, “I saw you at the bank. I see you now.” The women also reported to police that she went to the offender’s home asking him to stop harassing her. Police stated that the offender continued with his actions despite the woman’s request. The man was officially arraigned on charges of prostitution, terroristic threats, stalking and harassment. The offender was initially jailed but was later released on $25,000 bail. The offender’s identity was included in reports by local media outlets.
Loss of employment is also a consequence of buying sex in the city. For example, in 2020, the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General alleged that a Williamsport Bureau of Police officer obtained sex acts from women in exchange for not charging them with crimes such as drug possession, driving with a suspended license, and theft. He allegedly used the police J-NET system, a secure police database, to access the private records of multiple women, some of whom he coerced into sexual relationships or harassed. It is further alleged that, “he ran ninety-three illegitimate checks through J-NET between June 14th, 2015, and December 11th, 2019, on twenty-eight different women including coworkers, county employees, and female suspects.” Additionally, 18 of the unauthorized checks through J-NET were of a single female he had coerced into engaging in sex acts in lieu of arrest. The 36-year-old Cogan Station officer in question, was arrested in December 2019 on one felony count of unlawful use of computer, and misdemeanor counts of unsworn falsification to authorities, tampering with public records, law obstruction, hindering apprehension, official oppression, and criminal coercion in 2020. Video footage from surveillance cameras was used during the investigation and court proceedings as a form of evidence demonstrating the offenses committed by the officer in question. As a result of his arrest, he resigned from the force in September 2020.
- Williamsport Police Department
- Lycoming County Sheriff’s Office
- Lycoming County Human Trafficking Outreach Team
- PA Alliance Against Trafficking in Humans: Route 15 Project
- Lewisburg Police Department
- Union County Sheriff’s Office
- U.S. Department of Justice Middle District
- PA Alliance Against Trafficking in Humans: Route 15 Project
- Union County District Attorney’s Office
Web Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.northcentralpa.com/news/crime/three-men-indicted-for-alleged-child-prostitution (2021)
- https://www.northcentralpa.com/news/crime/federal-agents-arrest-three-men-during-federal-child-prostitution-sting/article (2021)
- https://cseinstitute.org/three-men-charged-in-middle-district-of-pennsylvania-for-child-prostitution/ (2021)
Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.sungazette.com/news/police-fire-court/2021/09/city-man-charged-with-prostitution/ (2021)
- https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/Report/MdjDocketSheet?docketNumber=MJ-29303-CR-0000077-2021&dnh=Cg3Ib%2BFcme8CfgYkXwJWnQ%3D%3D (2021)
- https://cseinstitute.org/prostitution-charges-filed-against-williamsport-woman-following-her-release-from-state-prison/ (2021)
- https://www.sungazette.com/news/police-fire-court/2021/05/two-charged-with-prostitution/ (2021)
- https://www.pennlive.com/pa-man-sexually-assaulted-teens-asked-them-to-recruit-more-girls (2022)
- https://www.sungazette.com/news/2022/06/police-allege-city-man-paid-juveniles-for-sex/ (2022)
Employment Loss, Cameras, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.northcentralpa.com/news/williamsport-police-officer-exchanged-sex-for-not-filing-charges-ags-office/ (2020)
- https://cseinstitute.org/pa-attorney-general-refiles-twenty-eight-charges-against-ex-williamsport-cop-alleging-new-evidence/ (2021)
- https://www.pennlive.com/news/2022/01/felony-charges-dismissed-again-against-ex-williamsport-cop.html (2022)
Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area:
- https://onthepulsenews.com/living-through-hell-the-invisible-truth-of-sex-trafficking-in-central-pennsylvania/ (2019)
- https://onthepulsenews.com/route-15-highway-rife-with-sex-trafficking-through-lycoming-county/ (2019)
- https://onthepulsenews.com/i-need-help-minors-are-the-primary-targets-for-sex-trafficking-in-us/ (2019)
- https://www.northcentralpa.com/news/prostitution-charges-filed-against-williamsport-woman (2021)
- https://onthepulsenews.com/hidden-problem-social-medias-role-in-human-trafficking-sexual-exploitation/ (2021)
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