Pittsburgh prostitution defense attorneys know that in a growing number of these cases, the women who are arrested are themselves victims of a greater crime - human trafficking.
Pittsburg prostitution is typically a third-degree misdemeanor for a first offense, under Pennsylvania Statute 5902. Subsequent offenses are considered more serious, and it's a third-degree felony if the sex worker has AIDS and knows it while he or she continues their work.
However, a recent story on 90.5 Essential Public Radio detailed that within the Pittsburgh region, human trafficking is becoming a serious problem. Many times, victims are either afraid to cooperate with authorities, or have been basically brainwashed to believe that what is happening is all their fault. That means that they get prosecuted for the offense of prostitution, when in fact they are the victims.
A lot of times, when people think of human trafficking in the U.S., they picture young girls or women brought from overseas to work in sexual servitude. However, there have been examples in which young girls, sometimes even those living in the suburbs, have been drugged or blackmailed into sexual slavery. Their families are threatened or those who are pimping them say they will show pictures of what they have been doing in order to keep them in bondage.
In Pittsburgh, FBI officials say there are roughly 15 locations that seem to be legitimate businesses, but are actually fronts for brothels. Here, they are mostly Asian massage parlors. In some of those situations, the women may be doing the work voluntarily. However, there are suspected to be some instances in which the women are being forced.
The problem is discerning which is which. So what ends up happening is that when law enforcement conducts Pittsburgh prostitution sting operations, they arrest and prosecute the victims.
The Southwest Pennsylvania Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition has kickstarted an effort to distribute information to law enforcement on how to identify potential sex trafficking situations, as opposed to ordinary prostitution. These would include aspects such as whether the prostitute is free to come and go, whether there are signs of physical abuse and whether they have been threatened into doing the work they do.
Law enforcement officials counter that even if the women are victims, their actions still constitute a crime.
But our Pittsburg prostitution defense attorneys believe that's not good enough. We believe that these victims deserve not only a solid defense, but access to help that will allow them to free themselves of their current situation. That is not achieved with an arrest, fines or prosecution.