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Boynton Beach is a city of approximately 80,000 residents in Palm Beach County, FL, near Delray Beach and West Palm Beach. Instances of prostitution and sex trafficking have been well-documented in the city and surrounding areas. Among the more serious issues associated with the city’s commercial sex market are child sex trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. For example, in 2014, the Boynton Beach Police Department arrested a Boynton man during an online operation focused on targeting individuals seeking to sexually exploit minors in exchange for money. According to reports, the offender had responded to a decoy ad posted by undercover officers posing as a 15-year-old boy. Upon arriving at the agreed-upon location, the man was arrested by law enforcement.
In an effort to reduce the demand for commercial sex in the city, the Boynton Beach Police Department has been conducting street-level reverse stings in areas known for prostitution since at least the late 1980’s, if not earlier. In these operations, female undercover police officers pose as prostituted people and signal nearby police officers to make arrests once deals are made. In at least one street-level reverse sting, arrested sex buyers were cited with the charge of soliciting prostitution from a motor vehicle, which if found guilty, would result in arrested sex buyers automatically having their driver’s license revoked. Since 1993, the BBPD has released the names, ages, photos, and other details about arrested offenders to local media outlets, along with details of the operations. For example, in May 2018, a street-level reverse sting on South Federal Highway near the Atrium Plaza led to the arrest of seven male sex buyers. The men ranged in age from 28 to 72 and were booked at the Palm Beach County Jail. The BBPD has also conducted web-based operations similar to those conducted in nearby towns.
Employment loss is also a consequence of buying sex in the city. For example, in 2016, a former Boynton Beach police officer was arrested during a reverse sting conducted by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. The sex buyer was initially placed on paid administrative leave, suspended for 80 hours, and required to complete a public corruption course. Once the BBPD received video evidence of the former officer soliciting an undercover deputy, he was officially fired. The former officer was determined to have violated two department policies: conduct unbecoming a police officer and conformance to the law.
In February 1990, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court established one of the first john schools in the United States, four years before the launch of San Francisco‘s First Offender Prostitution Program. The prostitution diversion program named the “Risk Education for Sex Offenders” program, was presented as an alternative to serving time in jail for first-time male offenders arrested for soliciting prostitution in Palm Beach County. The course was composed of a two-hour class, an 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.” Following a reverse sting in 1993, a Palm Beach County Judge meted out the following penalties for charges of solicitation:
- six months probation at $40 per month
- successful completion of the “Risk Education for Sex Offenders Program”
- attend class
- take an HIV/sexually transmitted diseases blood test
- pay $25 to see a movie about safe sex
- payment of $175 in court costs
- completion of a minimum of eight hours of community service
Although it is unclear how long the aforementioned program remained in effect, in October 2009, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported that its current incarnation, the Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) program –– had been offering a diversion option to male sex buyers since 2000. The program is administered by the West Palm Beach Police Department; it is limited to first-time offenders and includes a mandatory health education course. Between 2000 and 2009, 3,000 male sex buyers reportedly completed the program. It was comprised of a five-hour lecture with “speakers from law enforcement, mental and physical health experts, and at times a former prostitute lecture about the dark side of hiring a lady (or gentleman) of the night, or being one.” It allowed first-time offenders who completed the course to submit an STD test, avoid re-arrest, have the opportunity to expunge the charge from their record, and avoid a conviction for solicitation. In 2009, the course was offered 3-4 times a year, in classes of ~75 participants, in both Spanish and English. In February 2016, following the completion of a sting, media outlets interviewed the PIPE program’s founder, Gail Levine, who suggested that between 2000 and 2015, more than 3,700 first-time offenders had completed the john school course, and only 22 re-offended.
In 2019, an international human trafficking ring was uncovered during an undercover investigation into Jupiter’s Orchids of Asia Day Spa, which led to the arrest of the spa’s owner and manager, in addition to 25 alleged sex buyers, including the New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft and former Citigroup president, John Havens. The sex buyers were arrested on misdemeanor charges of prostitution and faced up to a year in jail, community service, and a half-day class educating sex buyers about the dangers of unprotected sex, the abuse prostituted women endure, and the legal implications of their actions. The sex buyers were referred to the Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) program. The program aimed to educate men arrested for solicitation on the violence, drugs, and diseases that are rampant within the illicit sex business. By 2020, 4,200 first-time offenders had completed the program, with only a 1% recidivism rate. Upon completion of the program, charges were dismissed. According to records, as of 2021, the program remains in operation.
More recent news reports indicate that a variation of this basic program model continues to operate within the county. A local organization helping sex trafficking survivors has collaborated with the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office to combat prostitution and sex trafficking. For over 13 years, West Palm Beach-based Hepzibah House and members of the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office have led a class for people — mostly men — who’ve been arrested on prostitution and solicitation charges. The program is called “The Buyers and Sellers’ School” or “Palm Beach County John School.” It works through the courts as a diversion program, with the goal being rehabilitation through participation in educational and therapeutic courses, like the facts and myths of prostitution. Participants hear from survivors who hope to help stop the pattern of targeting vulnerable, naïve runaways or troubled teens who often become addicted to drugs or alcohol. There is a similar class for those survivors who are taken into custody. For those who agree to enter the program and complete it, the original charge will be cleared through the D.A.’s Office. This program is for those who are facing misdemeanor solicitation or prostitution charges. Prostitution is a felony after the third charge – and such offenders are ineligible for the program. More information on the program is available through the Hepzibah House website.
In response to a survey conducted in 2021 by the NCOSE team for a National Institute of Justice grant to update and expand Demand Forum (Grant #2020-75-CX-0011), representatives from the Boynton Beach Police Department reported that they had made sex buyer arrests by means other than reverse stings since 2008.
2021 National Assessment II Survey
- “Hookers, Clients Take Class to Avoid Jail,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, April 1 1991.
- https://www.latimes.com/ (1993)
- Anti-Hooker crusade grows (1993)
- “Prostitution Prevention Program Hooks Johns,” Palm Beach Post, October 18 2000.
- “Sheriff’s Office Lures ‘Johns’ to Class,” Palm Beach Post, July 11 2001.
- “Pay For Sex, Get Lesson Instead,” Tampa Tribune, October 7 2001.
- “Tackling Demand for Prostitution,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, May 5 2003.
- “School for ‘Johns’ Tries to Scare Sex Solicitors Straight,” Palm Beach Post, July 23 2006.
- Class Teaches about Risks of Prostitution (2009)
- PIPE Founder Reports Only 22 Participants Out of 3,200 Have Reoffended from 2000 to 2015 (2016)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/schooling-johns-how-palm-beach-county-handles-prostitution-arrests (2019)
- Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE)
- https://www.theledger.com/human-trafficking-probes-focus-target-johns (2019)
- International Human Trafficking Ring Uncovered in West Palm Beach, FL (2019)
- 4,200 First Time Offenders Complete the PIPE program, Only 1% Recidivism Rate
- Hepzibah House
- Hepzibah House Hosts John School in West Palm Beach Florida (2019)
- https://cbs12.com/group-unveils-palm-beach-county-john-school-for-buyers-and-sellers-of-human-trafficking (2021)
Street-Level Reverse Stings:
- “Boynton Beach Police Decoys Hook Drivers Seeking Prostitutes,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, April 9 1988.
- “13 Arrested in Vice Sweep,” Miami Herald, September 3 1988.
- “100 Arrested in Prostitution Sweep,” Palm Beach Post, September 24 1989.
- “Wedding Gifts Swiped; Sting,” Boca Raton News, August 14 1994.
- Pastor arrested in prostitution sting (1997)
- “Veteran Boynton Beach Cop Disciplined,” Orlando Sentinel, December 12 2003.
- “Eight Men Arrested in Boynton Prostitution Sting,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, June 21 2010.
- Boynton Beach prostitution sting nets 7 arrests (2018)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/boynton-prostitution-sting-nets-four-arrests (2019)
- “Boynton Mayor Also Wants to Publish Names of Johns,” Palm Beach Post, January 16 1993.
- “Boynton to Publicize Johns’ Names,” Boca Raton News, January 20 1993.
- Hollywood sweeping prostitutes off streets (1997)
Web-Based Reverse Stings:
- Police arrest 16 in prostitution sting (2012)
- https://bbpd.org/police-arrest-13-in-undercover-prostitution-operation/ (2015)
- https://www.wflx.com/13-arrested-in-boynton-beach-undercover-prostitution-operation/ (2015)
Sex Buyer Fired and/or Resigned Due to Arrest:
- City fires officer caught in sting (2016)
- https://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/palm-beach/fl-boynton-beach-cop-fired (2016)
- https://www.local10.com/boynton-beach-police-officer-fired-after-arrest-during-prostitution-sting/ (2016)
Sex Buyer Arrest:
Driver’s License Suspension:
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Man Charged with Extortion,” Boca Raton News, July 28 1986.
- Police arrest man for soliciting underage boys (2014)
- Man, 22, charged with trafficking teen for sex (2015)
- “Man Offers to Drive Two Underage Girls to Boynton in Exchange for Sex Act,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, July 29 2015.
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Boynton Woman Found Dead Linked to Escort Web Site,” CBS/WGCL-TV 46, June 12 2014.
- https://bbpd.org/boynton-briefing-oct-22-2015/ (2015)
Background on Prostitution in the Area: