Palm Beach County, FL

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Shaming
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Letters
Cameras
Web stings
License suspension

Palm Beach County is a county of roughly 1.3 million residents, located on the eastern shore of Florida. Prostitution and sex trafficking are longstanding problems in the area. Several cases of targeted assaults and murders of individuals engaged in prostitution have also been documented in the county.

In addition to conducting city-level efforts in the communities of Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, North Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Delray Beach, Boca Raton, Greenacres, Jupiter, local law enforcement and government officials have also established demand-reduction programs at the county level. These efforts include mandatory community service for some convicted sex buyers through the county courts, and at least two john schools in the last 25 years.  The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and some of the communities within the county, publicize the identities of arrested sex buyers.

Recent effort to attach the consumer-level demand that provides the revenue for all sex trafficking include a large scale investigation and enforcement actions occurring from October 2018 through February, 2019.  The investigation into human trafficking and prostitution occurring in a storefront “spa” brothel resulted in the arrest of 25 male sex buyers, some of whom had their identities publicly revealed. The investigation began in response to a tip from a Martin County Sheriff’s Office investigator in October 2018, alleging that managers at a Day Spa were trafficking women, forcing them to perform sex acts for money.  That tip prompted an investigation by the Jupiter Police Department, during which surveillance at the parking lot observed a total of 97 men exiting the building in six days (while no females entered or exited).  Then, a trash pull by detectives yielded a spreadsheet of financial records showing names of presumed customers and dates of transactions.  Probable cause was established that allowed detectives to obtain warrants and place secret surveillance cameras inside the massage parlor.  The videos captured sex acts and confirmed customer identities.

Most of the 25 men face charges for soliciting prostitution.  Depending on the circumstances of the individual events, some of the men may not be booked into the Palm Beach County jail, and will not have mug shots taken and available for publicizing. Residents of Palm Beach County receive a notice in the mail with a summons to appear in court; out of state residents may have warrants issued for their arrest in Florida. An arrest warrant does not guarantee a booking photo in Palm Beach County if there is a misdemeanor charge only. Other agencies in Florida may handle charging and booking differently; e.g., in related investigations, Martin County and Indian River County agencies posted photos of the alleged sex buyers.

Soliciting another to commit prostitution is punishable as a second-degree misdemeanor for a first offense and a first-degree misdemeanor for a subsequent offense.  Through 2019 in Florida, a first offense carries a jail sentence of up to 60 days, and a second offense carries a sentence of up to one year.  Under Florida Statutes, punishment options for people charged for the first time with soliciting a prostitute may include a diversion program that may involve performing up to 100 hours of community service and attending a course on the harmful effects of prostitution and sex trafficking “if such programs exist in the judicial circuit in which the offender is sentenced.”

John School

Palm Beach County has had a john school program since the 1990s, and presents an option for those arrested in Jupiter and elsewhere in the County.  In February 1990, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court developed a prostitution diversion program, named the “Risk Education for Sex Offenders” program. Limited to first-time offenders, the course offered men arrested for soliciting prostitutes the option of completing the program in lieu of jail time. The course was composed of a two-hour class, a HIV blood test, mandatory attendance at four court hearings for prostituted women, and “reading a psychological profile of a prostitute who was diagnosed with AIDS.” Although it is unclear how long the aforementioned program remained in effect, in October 2009 the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported that a second school– the Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) program– had been offering a diversion option to johns since 2000. Between 2000 and 2009, 3,000 sex buyers reportedly completed the program. Comprised of a five-hour lecture with “speakers from law enforcement, mental and physical health experts, and at times a former prostitute lecture in the class about the dark side of hiring a lady (or gentleman) of the night, or being one,” it allowed first-time offenders who complete the course, submit to a STD test, and avoid re-arrest the opportunity to expunge the charge from their record and avoid a conviction for solicitation. As of 2009, the course was being offered 3-4 times a year, in classes of ~75 participants. It was also offered in both Spanish and English.

In February 1990, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court developed the county’s first prostitution diversion program, dubbed the Risk Education for Sex Offenders program. Limited to first-time offenders, the course offered the men the option of completing the program in lieu of jail time. The course was composed of a two-hour class, a HIV blood test, mandatory attendance at four court hearings for prostituted women, and “reading a psychological profile of a prostitute who was diagnosed with AIDS.”

Although it is unclear how long the aforementioned program remained in effect, in October 2009 the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported that a second school– the Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) program– had been offering a diversion option to johns since 2000. Between 2000 and 2009, 3,000 sex buyers reportedly completed the program. Comprised of a five-hour lecture with “speakers from law enforcement, mental and physical health experts, and at times a former prostitute lecture in the class about the dark side of hiring a lady (or gentleman) of the night, or being one,” it allowed first-time offenders who complete the course, submit to a STD test, and avoid re-arrest the opportunity to expunge the charge from their record and avoid a conviction for solicitation. As of 2009, the course was being offered 3-4 times a year, in classes of ~75 participants. It was also offered in both Spanish and English.

 

 

 

Key Partners

  • Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department
  • Palm Beach County Circuit Court
  • Palm Beach County Health Department
  • Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) Program
  • Risk Education for Sex Offenders

Key Sources

State Florida
Type County
Population 1266451
Location
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