Let the Buyer Beware: Peace Promise, The Nordic Model, and Conspiracies of Light

Woman sitting alone with hand covering face.

By Julia Schulz

There were over 800 cases of human trafficking filed in Pennsylvania in 2022, with many more unreported. The commonwealth currently ranks fifteenth in the nation for sex trafficking. Since the marginalized are often targeted, this evil can seem overwhelming, like undetectable cobwebs hiding in the dark corners of our neighborhoods. Yet, what if we all worked together to shine a light on the problem?

As Peace Promise has sought to minister to those sexually exploited in the greater Harrisburg area over the past few years, the organization has also forged relationships with various police departments and law enforcement organizations as well as anti-trafficking initiatives, drug rehabs, and recovery programs. Recently, these collaborative efforts have borne fruit in the apprehension of traffickers in “our backyard” (Cumberland, Dauphin, and York counties).

History of Peace Promise
Peace Promise was birthed by a group of local women who gathered at truck stops to pray over those being trafficked and sexually exploited.  A group of these “church ladies” soon began to visit the local strip clubs weekly, bringing a meal and treat to the dancers and practicing “kinship care.”  Executive Director, Patty Seaman, often explains that they never enter the doors of an adult establishment with an agenda or demand that the ladies stop working there. The “church ladies” simply love them and share life with them. When a woman is ready to exit the sex industry, they support her. Their assistance has taken many forms: supplying a bus ticket for a young woman fleeing a trafficker, driving someone to a rehab or safe house, supplying groceries or rent money during Covid (to prevent someone from resorting to prostitution), hosting a baby shower, babysitting, setting up an apartment for a woman who has lost everything in flight from a pimp or trafficker, attending court meetings and trials, finding legal advice, jail visits, and sadly, planning the funeral for a woman slain by an abuser and standing by her children who were left behind.

Many of these young women come from backgrounds of abuse, mental illness, trauma, addiction, and dysfunction that make them ripe for “grooming” by pimps and traffickers. Peace Promise has also realized that many of these ladies were never nurtured in adult life skills, so they mentor the women in budgeting, cooking, and parenting as well as soft job skills with a special line of hand-made personal care items (Soaps by Survivors) and a soon to open coffee shop in Camp Hill.

The Nordic Model
There are several approaches to assisting those currently involved in prostitution.  Some advocate for decriminalization of prostitution to allow sex workers to unionize and access legal protections without stigma (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch. The Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, and the World Health Organization follow this model which has been adopted in New Zealand and The Netherlands) while others argue for more full legalization to strictly regulate health checks and the use of condoms (as in Nevada and Germany). Peace Promise favors a third approach adopted in Sweden in 1999 (the Nordic Model) which aims to assist those selling their bodies by not prosecuting them but by aggressively targeting those purchasing sex with the aim of reducing the demand and helping people leave the sex industry. (The Nordic Model has also been adopted in Norway, Ireland, Canada, Northern Ireland, France, and Israel and is endorsed by the Carter Center Forum on Human Rights).

Recently, local law enforcement has also aggressively targeted the buyers of sex in a yearlong investigation into human trafficking in south-central Pennsylvania dubbed IMPACT DEMAND. The task force conducted five investigations, arrested 45 individuals, and linked these arrests to the businesses involved in human trafficking.  These businesses were targeted by operation CLOSED2TRAFFICKING which involved twelve federal, state, and local agencies. After several public complaints, authorities raided five massage parlors in Cumberland County and five in York and Dauphin counties on August 31st  and arrested Min Dong, 54, charging her with operating a corrupt organization, dealing in unlawful proceeds, and other offenses.

District Attorney Sean McCormack is very clear in his message to the men frequenting these establishments, “We know who you are. Stop it!”  Credit was also given to citizens who made complaints about the illegitimate massage parlors, and there is a push to better regulate spas that offer massages.

The Cumberland County Human Trafficking Task Force partnered with Peace Promise and other organizations that assist victims of trafficking and exploitation in these investigations. Peace Promise remains poised to meet the needs of these individuals as they process their trauma on the long road to recovery and new life.

Yes, the problem of sexual exploitation is deeply entrenched in our society but imagine what would happen if everyone's efforts continued to join together as a bright light exposing evil and driving out the darkness!