Why Did the Police Target the Mummers Prostitutes?

The six-week undercover investigation doesn’t make sense when cops are ignoring the sex-for-sale businesses in plain sight

It seems that a whole lot of people were shocked this week when news broke that the Philadelphia Police Department raided a Mummers clubhouse in South Philadelphia and arrested ten women for prostitution. Those who were less surprised at this information have spent some time either on Two Street, a destination not exactly known for clean living and family fun, or inside one of Philadelphia’s many private social clubs, where illegal behavior—whether bookmaking, drugs, or, yes, the occasional “G-String Night,” as the Italian-American club in my neighborhood calls it—is not exactly uncommon. At most clubs, it’s an unstated privilege of membership.

After the arrests, some of you out there wondered how desperate men must be to pay these particular women, most of whom appear rather, shall we say, weathered, for sex. Others asked why only the ladies of the night were arrested but not their johns. These are all good questions, but what I really want to know is, why did the PPD spend so much time going after this particular club?

According to police, who held a press conference and released mugshots of the accused to the press—as if this was a victory over some terrorist plot to release nerve gas on the Broad Street Line—the bust came after a six-week investigation of the club. Police say that the “wild sex parties,” as characterized by Fox news, had been going on for some time on the second Tuesday of each month.

Meanwhile, all over this city, there are longstanding houses of prostitution that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They advertise their services—usually under the guise of spa treatments—in local publications. Here’s a little tip for your crack investigative team, Commissioner Ramsey: the phrase “body shampoo” is sometimes used as sex industry speak for “prostitution,” especially when it appears in an ad next to a completely naked Asian woman sporting a come-hither look, as is the case with an advertisement in Wednesday’s Philadelphia Weekly for the Happiness Spa at 1812 Ludlow Street, less than 400 feet from Stephen Starr’s Continental Midtown.

There’s another so-called spa at 1819 Ranstead Street, about a two-minute walk from the Philly Mag offices, on a dead-end block that also houses a Midtown Diner and the barber shop where I get my hair cut. Once buzzed in at 1819 Ranstead, after they check you out via a security camera, you give $65 to the nice lady who answers the door. She may give you a beer as a line of Asian women parades before you. You pick your gal, go upstairs with her, get naked, and then, following a massage and, yes, an actual body shampoo, negotiate a “tip.” For sex. Shocking!

While the Mummers clubhouse is a private club that wasn’t taking out ads in the local paper for its monthly soiree, these brothels are selling sex out in the open, totally unregulated, and, apparently, with impunity. Are they paying taxes on all of that illegally earned income? Are the “workers” being tested for diseases? And, most importantly, with the many well-documented connections between brothels and human trafficking in the United States, are the women who sell their bodies at these places sex slaves or operating of their own free will?

Just some food for thought.





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  • Jill

    Hey Victor,

    Tough research for this story?

  • rechill

    Are the Ranstead Street brothel clientele more upscale? Maybe some folks get a pass while working class slobs can’t get their jollies engaging in a victimless crime in a private club. I love all the manufactured outrage as well. Just like the guy with the company that makes pot-shaped candy. Don’t they have any real crimes to solve?

    • MK

      @rechill – As pointed out in the article, human trafficking and prostitution often go hand in hand, so while the particular women arrested this week might be doing it on their own for fun & profit, prostitution is very often NOT a victimless crime.

  • Weldy

    I thought the Italian American Club moved out of Overbrook 10 years ago?

  • Victor Fiorillo

    @ Weldy, there are a few different Italian-American clubs in my general vicinity.

  • Robin

    I don’t entirely understand this statement:
    “Those who were less surprised at this information have spent some time either on Two Street, a destination not exactly known for clean living and family fun”
    I live on “2 Street” WITH my family, and I think this neighborhood is one of the closest I have ever seen. Everyone will do anything for each other, I have been to more benefits than I can count to help fellow neighbors, and I have attended many festivals geared TOWARDS family fun.
    So, I can say, that I WAS surprised to hear about this story. It saddened me to know this was going around on around the corner from my house.


  • KAM

    Maybe that’s the way YOU view Two street, but those of us who live or have lived on 2nd Street (not TWO street), know that just like any other neighborhood in an urban environment there are issues, but that 2nd Street residents are known for their close knit community and for their charity towards their neighbors.

    Your comment is not only rude and disrespectful towards the neighborhood of 2nd Street, but to all other South Philly neighborhoods, who share the same qualities and struggle to keep crime out of their neighborhoods.

  • ken

    The reason why they were caught was because of someone’s wife finding out and getting revenge on her husband by notifying the authorities

  • hey genius

    A simple investigation would reveal ownership of the properties used as brothels in the city.
    Sammy Rappaport, who was a major contributor to Fast Eddie, and amongst his closest friends, was a major player and fixer for years, owned numerous properties used for these enterprises.
    Eddie, notoriously slobbered, provided cover for “victimless” crimes for years and his legacy continues.
    Sex, gambling, drugs, welcome to Rendell’s Public Policy.

  • Wow, the research for this article proves what ‘hard’-hitting journalism PhillyMag puts forth.

    I have a question about the Ranstead St. “spa,” though:

    You stated that you negotiate a tip “for sex” meaning actual P-V or just a handy?

  • Well said.

    It’s unfortunate that our country’s puritanical nonsense uptight views about sex result in prostitution being an underground activity that has, as “the world’s oldest profession” and always will, flourish. In Central America and most of the civilized world, the profession is taxed, licensed, tested for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (with mandatory training on what is and isn’t safe sex), and trafficked workers are assisted, not prosecuted.

    As you said, the cons of prohibition are: lost tax revenue, no licensing fees for workers, no STD testing, no way to distinguish between those who choose to do this for a living and slaves being trafficked.

    Someone tell me the pro’s again? I can’t seem to recall any.

  • jane blow

    in response to the above comment,,i live in central america,,and NO,,all sex workers are not tested ,,taxed,and everything is not hunky dory as you would believe.
    this has been going on in philadelphia for decades, if not eons. hardly newsworthy..yawn

  • OKay its a “priveledge for men” and the women get arrested and insulted for their “weathered” look in this article. Were the men arrested?