Martin County, FL

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Martin County is located in the Treasure Coast region of Florida on the Atlantic Coast. Its population is about 160,000, and the county seat is the city of Stuart. Martin County is in the Port St. Lucie Metropolitan Statistical Area. Among other cities in the county is Hobe Sound. Prostitution activity has been well-documented in Hobe Sound and surrounding communities and surrounding unincorporated areas of Martin county. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is sex trafficking. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates result in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses.

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. Martin County Sheriff’s Office deputies have conducted street-level reverse stings in Stuart using female officers as decoys. A two-day reverse sting captured 13 male sex buyers in 1997, but it is unknown when reverse stings first occurred in the area.

In February 2019, law enforcement agencies announced several substantial investigations into allegations of human trafficking and prostitution occurring in storefront spas serving as brothels across several counties in Florida. After conducting surveillance and investigations in response to these allegations and establishing probable cause, warrants were obtained. Surveillance cameras were installed in several Martin County brothels in the cities of Hobe Sound and Stuart. Initial reports said that four spas in Martin County were also involved in the multi-county investigations and enforcement actions. The six-month investigation revealed human traffickers were luring vulnerable girls to massage parlors in Florida, where they were coerced into exploitation in the sex trade. Martin County Sheriff’s Office and Jupiter Police Department collaborated on the investigation and collectively seized property in Stuart, two properties in Hobe Sound, six vehicles, including luxury cars and more than $500,000 in cash.

Evidence about sexual activity from the hidden cameras was combined with evidence from trash pulls and executed search warrants. The police began conducting traffic stops on vehicles leaving the brothels to confirm the identities of alleged customers. According to the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, investigators uncovered about 100 male sex buyers who benefited from the “graphic sexual acts” the trafficked women were forced to perform. The accumulated evidence led to arrest warrants for over 50 sex buyers in Martin County in the first two weeks after the investigation was announced.

In February 2019, 60 men were charged with soliciting prostitution. 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. 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, performing up to 100 hours of community service, and attending a course on the harmful effects of prostitution and sex trafficking.

In April 2019, the first of more than 60 men charged the prior February in Martin County had accepted a plea deal. The Hobe Sound resident pled no contest to a charge of soliciting prostitution during a hearing; prosecutors dropped the charge of “use of structure or conveyance for prostitution.” The County Judge placed the man on one year of probation and ordered that he serve 100 hours of community service, pay a $5,000 civil fine, and take a class about the effects of prostitution and sex trafficking.

Key Partners


Key Sources

Reverse Stings:

  • “The Palm Beach Post: Police Blotter.” 15 Feb 1997.

Brothel-Based Investigations Using Cameras; Arrest of Sex Buyers; Identity Disclosure

Auto Seizure:

Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Region:

State Florida
Type County
Population 159923
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