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North Palm Beach is a small city on Florida’s east coast, in Palm Beach County, FL. The city is located north of Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and, as of 2019, has a population of approximately 13,000 residents. Prostitution and sex trafficking are well-documented problems in the city and region. 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. For example, the first known reverse sting in the city occurred in 1976, resulting in the arrest of 29 men. One of the men arrested was former Mayor Ronald L. Heraty, who resigned from his post following his arrest in 1976. In January 2013, an investigation was conducted by local and federal law enforcement into an international child sex trafficking operation coordinated by the North Palm Beach ophthalmologist Dr. Salomon Melgen. Later in 2013, a woman who operated a North Palm Beach massage parlor was charged with maintaining a house of prostitution.
In 1991, West Palm Beach established one of the first john schools in the United States, four years before the launch of San Francisco‘s First Offender Prostitution Program. Palm Beach County has had a john school program since the 1990s and presents an option for those arrested in Jupiter, FL, and elsewhere in Palm Beach County. In February 1990, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court developed a prostitution diversion program, named the “Risk Education for Sex Offenders” program. Limited to first-time offenders, the course offered men arrested for soliciting prostitutes the option of completing the program in lieu of jail time. The course was composed of a two-hour class, an HIV blood test, mandatory attendance at four court hearings for prostituted women, and “reading the 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 Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) 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 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. 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 complete the course, to submit an STD test, avoid re-arrest, and 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 could face 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, operated by founder Gail Levine. She stated that the program aims to educate men arrested for solicitation of prostitution 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 are 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, headed by CEO Becky Dymond, helping sex trafficking survivors, 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, and the goal is 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 also 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.
Identity Disclosure, Reverse Stings:
- UPI (Youngstown Vindicator). June 26, 1976. Arrested Mayor Resigns Post. (1976)
- Palm Beach Eye Doctor Arrested for Operating Child Sex Trafficking Ring (2013)
- Woman Operating a North Palm Beach Massage Parlor for Prostitution (2013)
- Judge orders billionaire Robert Kraft to show up for next prostitution case hearing (2019)
Background on Local Prostitution, Sex Trafficking:
- https://www.sun-sentinel.com/fl-xpm-2013-11-18-fl-north-palm-massage-arrest (2013)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/story/news/2013/11/19/at-this-north-palm-beach (2013)