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Alachua County is a county of approximately 270,000 residents, located in north central Florida. Gainesville is the county’s seat and largest city. The city of Newberry, just outside Gainesville, has also done work to address demand. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in Gainesville and surrounding communities, and in unincorporated areas of Alachua County. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates have resulted in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is sex trafficking. For example, in 2012, an Alachua County accountant was accused of keeping three women trapped in his home as sex slaves for months. He was arrested by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and faced multiple charges for human trafficking, sexual battery, prostitution and drug offenses. In November 2017, a Gainesville woman was arrested by Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies and charged with human trafficking, interfering with the custody of a minor and forcing a minor into prostitution. The case began when deputies responded to a missing juvenile report. During the investigation, evidence of human trafficking was observed. A 16-year-old girl who had fled from a group home in St. Petersburg was found in a motel room with a 31-year-old man who had responded to an online advertisement for an $80 massage. Weeks after running away from a group home — needing food, money and shelter — she was introduced to the offender, who initially offered the girl food, shelter, and a way to make money through sex. Ads were placed on the Backpage website and the offender handled the arrangements, then kept the money the victim was owed and hid the victim’s phone to keep her from contacting anyone.
Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. In the late 1970s, pervasive prostitution and sex trafficking activity in and around area rest stops generated complaints to police, and led the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) to conduct a series of large-scale reverse stings along Interstate 75. ACSO officers coordinated with members of the Florida Highway Patrol’s Rest Area Concentrated Enforcement Task Force (RACE). One initiative, conducted over the course of three months in 1988, resulted in the arrest of over 150 individuals on solicitation charges. The names and identities of arrested sex buyers were at times publicized by local media outlets.
In 2003, Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies collaborated with members of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Marshal Service, Tallahassee Police Department and St. Johns and Leon County Sheriff’s Offices to establish the North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. In October 2011, officers conducted a web sting across several jurisdictions targeting sex buyers soliciting sex from minors online. The operation resulted in the arrest of 35 men, all of whose names and photos were released to the public. A similar investigation, conducted by ACSO officers in February 2012, netted an additional 21 men on solicitation charges.
In 2017, fifteen men were arrested during an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force operation, involving the Gainesville Police Department and Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. In “Operation Resilient,” multiple men communicated online with people whom they believed to be either a child or a guardian that would allow sexual contact with a child. Of that group, fifteen men actually traveled to meet the online contacts with the intent of having sexual contact, which ultimately led to their arrest.
In 2022, a man is behind bars in Polk County after he, along with more than 100 others, was arrested as part of a human trafficking sting. The thirty-six-year-old man was arrested in Alachua County after he was caught communicating with a deputy posing as a 13-year-old girl. He’s being charged with transmission of material harmful to a minor and unlawful use of a two-way communication device. He was one of the more than 100 people arrested, which included four Disney employees, as part of a nearly weeklong human trafficking sting operation.
- Alachua County Sheriff’s Office
- Florida Highway Patrol
- Rest Area Concentrated Enforcement (RACE) Task Force
- North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force
- Citrus County Sheriff’s Office
- “Six More Nabbed on Prostitution Charges”, Gainesville Sun, August 31 1984.
- “Five Men Arrested at I-75 Rest Area”, Gainesville Sun, December 14 1984.
- “Truckers Charged with Soliciting Prostitution”, Gainesville Sun, October 29 1986.
- “Sixteen Are Arrested on Prostitution Charges”, Gainesville Sun, January 18 1987.
- “Prostitution May Force Closing of I-75 Stop”, Miami Herald, February 12 1988.
- “Five Truckers Arrested at Rest Area”, Gainesville Sun, April 18 1988.
- “No Rest Against Crime”, Gainesville Sun, June 15 1988.
- “Sex-for-Money Arrests New for Troopers”, Ocala Star-Banner, June 18 1988.
- “Paynes Prairie Rest Stop Still Hot Spot, Official Says”, Ocala Star-Banner, June 18 1988.
- “Troopers Call Crackdown on Prostitution a Success”, Ocala Star-Banner, February 5 1989.
- “FHP Driving Crime Away from Rest Stops”, Orlando Sentinel, November 4 1989.
- “Six Arrested on Newberry Road in Prostitution Sting”, Gainesville Sun, August 5 2008.
- “7 Arrested During Prostitution Sting”, Gainesville Sun, December 10 2008.
Web Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “35 Men Arrested in Florida Underage Sex Sting”, CBS/WTSP-TV 10, October 19 2011.
- “School Teacher Arrested in Undercover Sex Sting”, ABC/WCJB-TV 20, February 6 2012.
- https://www.wuft.org/news/2017/03/28/3-uf-students-among-15-arrested-in-sex-trafficking-sting/ (2017)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Man Charged with Selling Girls’ Sex Services”, Ocala Star-Banner, October 21 1993.
- “Hundreds of Charges May Be Filed Against 11 in Prostitution Case”, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, May 5 2000.
- “Man Arrested, Charged for Molesting, Prostituting 12-Year-Old”, Gainesville Sun, July 16 2008.
- “Mother Accused of Prostituting Her Children”, Gainesville Sun, May 26 2012.
- “Palatka Man Pleads Guilty to Sex Trafficking”, Gainesville Sun, October 29 2012.
- https://www.gainesville.com/article/LK/20120304/News/604133412/GS/ (2012)
- https://www.cbsnews.com/news/cops-man-kept-women-as-sex-slaves-in-his-florida-home/ (2013)
- https://www.gainesville.com/news/20171109/woman-27-accused-of-prostituting-teen (2017)
- https://cbs12.com/news/local/accused-human-trafficker-gets-22m-bail (2017)
- https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndfl/pr/alachua-county-man-sentenced-327-months-prison-sex-trafficking (2018)
- https://www.wcjb.com/2022/03/16/gainesville-man-among-more-than-100-people-arrested-human-trafficking-sting/ (2022)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Policeman Arrested in Prostitution Case”, Boca Raton News, January 23 1981.
- “Police Push to Raid I-75 of Prostitutes”, Miami News, June 14 1982.
- “Interstate Girls a Continuing Problem in Sumter”, Ocala Star-Banner, June 20 1982.
- “3 Women are Charged with Prostitution”, Gainesville Sun, September 25 1983.
- “Women Arrested for Soliciting Prostitution”, Gainesville Sun, April 28 1984.
- “Sweep on Prostitutes, Homosexual Activities Capped by Authorities”, Gainesville Sun, August 30 1984.
- “Prostitution Sting Ends in Three More Arrests”, Gainesville Sun, September 8 1984.
- “Husband, Wife Arrested on Prostitution Charges”, Gainesville Sun, December 6 1984.
- “Prostitution Law May Fail If Jail Space Is Lacking”, Gainesville Sun, November 30 1987.
- “Accused Ringleader is Called a ‘Menace'”, Gainesville Sun, October 28 1993.
- “State Must Find More Adequate Locations for County Rest Areas”, Gainesville Sun, August 9 1994.
- “Prostitute Solicits Deputies”, Gainesville Sun, August 1 1995.
- “Gainesville Man Arrested in Child Prostitution-Related Case”, Gainesville Sun, September 21 2012.