Can Pennsylvania's Domestic Violence Laws Actually Cover Prostitutes?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Nov 12, 2019 | 0 Comments

Police in Philadelphia are investigating an apparent murder and robbery that may have been committed by a prostitute.

While lethal crimes cannot be crimes of domestic violence, the situation raises an interesting hypothetical that does not seem to have been resolved by Pennsylvania courts: Are prostitutes “family or household members” under the commonwealth's domestic violence laws?

Escort Suspected in Philadelphia Area Murder

The fatal scenario happened overnight between November 4 and 5 in Rhawnhurst outside of Center City Philadelphia. Neighbors reported hearing yells and screams from a house around 3 a.m. They called the police and saw a woman leaving the house shortly thereafter.

When police arrived, they found a man lying naked and partially tied down in bed with a large wound on his head and gashes in his chest. There were also signs of a robbery, as well.

Police suspect that the woman who was seen leaving the house was a prostitute, and suspect her of killing the man in his home.

Domestic Violence Laws Apply to Family or Household Members

Crimes of domestic violence are actually just other crimes, committed against a certain subset of people. Those people are “family or household members.”

In short, other crimes like stalking or harassment become domestic violence if the victim is a member of the defendant's family or household.

The definition of “family or household members” comes from 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6102. There are some obvious inclusions in this law, like parents and their children, or spouses. However, there are also some less obvious choices, too.

Chief among them: “Current or former sexual or intimate partners.”

Are Prostitutes a Current or Former Sexual or Intimate Partner?

If crimes committed between “current or former sexual or intimate partners” triggers Pennsylvania's domestic violence laws, does that mean that a crime involving a prostitute and a john is domestic violence?

Courts in Pennsylvania do not seem to have come to a decision, yet.

However, there are similar cases involving protection from abuse (PFA) orders that may shed some light on the topic. PFA orders can only be issued to protect victims of domestic violence. They rely, therefore, on offenses between “family or household members.”

In one case, Scott v. Shay, the Pennsylvania Superior Court hung its hat on whether the sexual relationship between two people was consensual. In throwing away a PFA order between a sexual assault victim and her previously convicted assailant, the court demanded a closer relationship to make someone a “family or household member.”

However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Evans v. Braun said that merely dating a co-worker twice – seemingly without sexual relations – was sufficient to make the two sexual or intimate partners and family or household members.

Obviously, prostitutes fall between these two cases, making it unclear whether they would fall under the purview of Pennsylvania's domestic violence laws.

Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento Serves Philadelphia

Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who can legally represent those who have been accused of domestic violence in and around Philadelphia. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353.

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Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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