Fort Walton Beach is a city in Florida located about 65 miles west of Pensacola in the north western part of the state with a population of about 19,000. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the city and surrounding communities, and in unincorporated areas of Okaloosa County. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results 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 2016 two Fort Walton Beach residents were arrested in connection with a human trafficking and prostitution ring operating in Okaloosa and Walton counties. One of the defendants was charged with human trafficking and deriving support from the proceeds of prostitution. Agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in cooperation with the Okaloosa and Walton County sheriff’s offices, made the arrests. According to a press release from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the pair were accused of operating a human trafficking ring involving multiple victims. Agents began investigating after discovering online advertisements for escorts on the website Backpage.com. The investigation revealed four victims who authorities say were forced to engage in sex acts for money through the use of physical harm, threats of physical harm, or by enticing them with controlled substances such as heroin.
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. Reverse sting operations have been used since at least 2007, possibly earlier, in response to complaints from residents about being solicited in public places. In one reverse sting in 2007, nine johns were arrested in a six hour period. Another tactic used by local police, web stings, has been utilized in this city. As an example of this, in 2010, seven johns were arrested over an eight hour period as a result of responding to an ad police posted on the web for escort services.
The Florida State Legislature passed a bill that was signed into law in June, 2019, that creates a registry of convicted sex buyers and provides a publicly-accessible listing of their identities. The registry data includes the names, addresses and photos of people found guilty of soliciting sex from a prostituted person. The database is part of a broader piece of legislation aimed at combating human trafficking by lowering demand for commercial sex. If fully implemented, all communities in Florida would be included as using shaming as a tactic applied to arrested sex buyers.
- Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office
- Narcotics Unit, Problem Oriented Police Unit
- Fort Walton Beach Police Department
- Street Crimes Unit
Street-Level Reverse Stings:
- “Fort Walton Beach, Local Briefs Column; Seven Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” Northwest Florida Daily News, May 25 2006.
- “13-Year-Old Boy Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” Northwest Florida Daily News, March 21 2007.
- “9 Arrested in Prostitution Sting; Sheriff’s Lt. Arnold Brown: ‘We Could Go Back There Tonight and Catch More of Them’,” Northwest Florida Daily News, March 22 2007.
- “Destin Man among Seven Nabbed in Prostitution Sting,” Florida Freedom, July 10 2010.
- New Florida Law Establishes Publicly-Accessible List of Convicted Sex Buyers (2019)
- https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/florida/fl-ne-florida-sex-offender-registry (2019)
- https://www.npr.org/podcasts/485103472/w-f-s-u-state-news-florida (2019)
Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area:
- “Prostitution Foe Fights Back; Sylvania Heights Resident Launches Campaign for Safer Community,” Northwest Florida Daily News, August 31 2008.
- “Daily News Local Briefs; Fort Walton Beach; Five Caught in Prostitution Sting,” Northwest Florida Daily News, December 18 2008.
- https://www.wjhg.com/home/headlines/36337564.html (2008)
- https://www.wtvy.com/home/headlines/36388934.html (2008)
- “BRIEF: Sting on Escort Services Nets 5 on Drug, Prostitution Charges,” Northwest Florida Daily News, May 12 2009.
- “Prostitute Struggles to Regain Her Life,” Northwest Florida Daily News, June 18 2009.
- “Quiet Time in Sylvania Heights: Residents Say the Neighborhood Has Come a Long Way in the Last Few Years,” Northwest Florida Daily News, February 28 2010.
- “BRIEF: Woman Charged with Prostitution,” Northwest Florida Daily News, September 16 2011.
- “BRIEF: Woman Offers Undercover Officer Sex for $17,” Northwest Florida Daily News, October 30 2011.
- https://www.wjhg.com/home/headlines/Fort-Walton-Beach-Woman-Arrested-for-Allegedly-Offering-to-Commit-Prostitution-307063901.html (2015)
- https://www.thedestinlog.com/article/20160317/NEWS/160319203 (2016)
- https://www.nwfdailynews.com/news/20180220/fwbpd-arrests-three-women-in-operation-valentine-prostitution-sting (2019)