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Bay County is a county of about 180,000 residents on the Gulf coast in northwestern Florida. Its county seat is Panama City. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been documented in the county, including child sex trafficking and the creation of child sexual abuse materials (i.e., child pornography). These problems and the ancillary crimes it generates have resulted in complaints to law enforcement. Drugs have also been connected to the local commercial sex market.
To address the demand for commercial sex, street-level and web-based reverse stings have been conducted in the county. In May 2004, the Panama City Police Department and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office collaborated on a four-day reverse sting, which resulted in 72 men being arrested. Undercover officers posed as prostituted women to target men soliciting purchased sex. The undercover officers used a wire to record everything potential sex buyers asked for. Although soliciting prostitution was only a misdemeanor, police officials said it was not the charge that would deter this illegal action, but the knowledge that buyers’ wives and families might find out.
In August 2022, several local agencies and the FBI took part in a large-scale prostitution operation in the Panhandle that resulted in the arrest of at least 17 people. Panama City Police said in a news release they participated in the operation on August 4 and August 5. They added that Panama City Beach Police and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office were part of the enforcement action. Not many details were released about the operation, but Panama City Police released the names and charges of those arrested, including 7 male sex buyers. Charges included possession of drugs and paraphernalia, procuring for prostitution, traveling to meet a minor for sexual activities, use of a computer to solicit a minor, and deriving support from proceeds of prostitution.
- Bay County Sheriff’s Office
- Panama City Police Department
- Panama City Beach Police
Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.wjhg.com/home/headlines (2004)
- “Dozens of Accused ‘Johns’ Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” NBC/WJHG-TV 7, May 23 2004.
- https://www.mypanhandle.com/don-t-miss/bay-county-sheriff-s-office-arrests-eight-in-prostitution-sting (2019)
- https://www.wkrg.com/news/police-fbi-take-part-in-massive-prostitution-sting (2022)
- https://www.mypanhandle.com/news/local-news/police-fbi-take-part-in-massive-prostitution-sting (2022)
- https://www.wjhg.com/pcb-police-arrest-21-men-human-trafficking-internet-crimes-involving-children (2022)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Video Producer Faces 22 Charges,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, April 26 2003.
- “Judge: ‘Girls Gone Wild’ Video of Teen Is Not Child Porn,” Tuscaloosa News, March 15 2004.
- “Most ‘Girls’ Charges Dead: State Says Dismissal of Key Evidence Leaves Only 8 Charges That Can Be Tried in Court,” Panama City News Herald, December 6 2006.
- “Brief: PCPD: Woman Offered Child as Prostitute,” Panama City News Herald, December 22 2011.
- https://www.newsherald.com/news/bay-county-man-arrested-for-sex-trafficking (2018)
- https://www.wjhg.com/6-month-long-prostitution-sting-ends-arrests-several-local-spas (2021)
- https://www.wkrg.com/northwest-florida/two-bay-county-men-arrested-for-human-trafficking (2021)
- https://www.mypanhandle.com/news/local-news/21-arrested-in-panama-city-beach-child-sex-trafficking-sting (2022)
- https://www.wjhg.com/fbi-works-with-local-agencies-nationwide-human-trafficking-sting (2022)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Panama City Prostitution Bust Results in Four Arrests,” NBC/WJHG-TV 7, September 4 2014.
- “Brief: Man Fined for Pimping Ex-Girlfriend on Facebook,” Panama City News Herald, September 12 2014.
- https://www.wjhg.com/content/news/Eight-arrested-on-prostitution-charges (2017)
- https://www.newsherald.com/news/arrested-employee-spa-owner-not-involved-in-prostitution (2018)
- https://www.mypanhandle.com/news/local-news/authorities-release-arrest-information-in-connection-to-prostitution-bust (2021)
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area: