Sarasota 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

Sarasota County is located in Southwest Florida on the Gulf Coast with a population of approximately 433,000 residents. Its county seat is the city of Sarasota, and its largest city is North Port. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified by law enforcement as substantial problems in the city, and residents have complained to police about prostitution in multiple neighborhoods.  For example, in March, 2018 the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department began an undercover investigation after receiving information from an inmate at the Sarasota County Jail about possible human trafficking. According to the female inmate, she and another woman were sex trafficked by the same man. The pimp/sex trafficker regularly brought both women from Orlando to Sarasota for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity. Following the transactions, the pimp/sex trafficker would keep the money and supply both women with heroin to support their addiction. Through continued investigation, detectives identified a woman, who had outstanding warrants for Failure to Appear, and agreed to meet and engage in sexual activity with undercover detectives at a Sarasota hotel. When the woman arrived, she was driven by the pimp/sex trafficker, and both were taken into custody. As detectives approached pimp/sex trafficker’s vehicle, they witnessed a passenger suspected of having drugs in the back seat. A search revealed possession of illicit drugs, including oxycodone and rock cocaine. The trio was booked into the Sarasota County Jail. The pimp/sex trafficker was charged with two counts of Human Trafficking, Possession of Cocaine, Possession of Marijuana, and Driving while License Suspended. Others were charged with prostitution, contempt and possession of Oxycodone. Other investigations have found those purchasing sex in Sarasota County to be in possession of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM).

In response to sex trafficking and the wide range of additional crimes that always accompany prostitution, police have targeted consumer-level demand for commercial sex to attack the source of the sex trade’s revenue. For example:

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

The city of Sarasota and Sarasota county have conducted stings since 1982, and has conducted dozens of reverse stings, with the largest resulting in over thirty arrests. A local news source reported that in 1982 the county began to heavily focus on reducing the demand for commercial sex and all arrests made during the fall season were of male sex buyers. In addition to conducting reverse stings, the county has also documented the implementation of SOAP Orders, or Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution Orders, conducting auto seizures during stings, and releasing the identities, photos, and charges of arrested sex buyers.

Street-level operations have focused on different locations along North Tamiami Trail. The Sarasota Police Department posts the mugshots of arrested sex buyers and prostituted women on their website, in addition to seizing the vehicles of arrested sex buyers. Some news reports have provided the full names, dates of birth, and home addresses of arrested sex buyers.  Law enforcement officials have also conducted web-based stings to target adults trolling the internet for commercial sex with adults and minors, and have made dozens of arrests. For example, in 2014, 12 men were arrested in Operation Intercept III—an undercover sting operation targeting adults who use the Internet to sexually exploit children. According to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, the men, ages 20-50, allegedly used applications, social media sites, or Internet advertisements to contact what they believed to be minors or guardians of children but were actually undercover officers. A majority of the men charged in the sting believed they were talking to 14-year-old females. One case involved an agent posing as a 13-year-old girl, and another involved an agent posing as a 14-year-old boy. The 12 men went to the sting house in Sarasota County, allegedly intending to have sex with a child, but instead were met by undercover detectives where they were arrested and charged with use of a computer to solicit a child to commit a sex act, travel to solicit a child to commit sex and attempted lewd and lascivious battery. Some of the suspects face additional charges related to sending nude photos or drugs. In addition to the arrests, two motorcycles were seized during the operations. The names, ages, locations, and charges of the arrested men were released by local news sources.

In 2017, the Sarasota Police Department conducted a sting that resulted in the arrest of five male sex buyers and the impoundment of two of the sex buyers’ vehicles. In July of 2019, twenty-five people were arrested during a four-day sting, Operation Intercept VI across Sarasota County, which focused on protecting children from online predators and human trafficking. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office arrested 25 men between the ages of 19 and 65 on suspicion of solicitation. The men responded to a number of ads posted online and engaged in sexually explicit written and verbal conversations. All of the arrestees traveled with the intent of having sex with a child. According to the news release, the suspects, responded to internet-based ads along with online apps and social media sites. Suspects were found to have brought narcotics and other drugs, firearms, and condoms to the sting site. Sarasota County Sheriff, Tom Knight said, “Unfortunately, the internet allows for easy and anonymous access to children by strangers who are hiding behind a computer screen. That is why these operations are paramount to ensuring our most vulnerable population is safe and protected. The men arrested during this operation managed to blend into society and attempted to prey on children by developing a trust through promises to exploit them for sexual purposes.” During a news conference, Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight urged parents to be watchful of apps and social media that their children may be using, including: Meetme, Grindr, Skout, Whatsapp, TikTok, Badoo, Bumble, Snapchat, Kik, Live.Me, Holla, Whisper, Ask.FM, Calculator%, and Hot or Not. The identities, ages, charges, locations of arrest, and photos of arrested men were released by local news sources.

In August of 2020, another reverse sting conducted by the Sarasota Police Department resulted in the arrest of four men. This particular operation was conducted by a joint task force comprised of the Sarasota Police Department Narcotics Unit in addition to the Patrol Division. Like in previous stings, law enforcement focused on the well-known North Tamiami Trail, an area locally famous for solicitation. In this particular case, the names and ages of the men arrested were made public in addition to the charges they had pending.

“Dear John” Letters:

Beginning on March 4th, 2014, a new program by the Sarasota Police Department was launched that will send letters to car owners who have been seen speaking to known prostituted persons operating along the North Tamiami Trail. The letter to the registered vehicle owner(s) states:

“Your vehicle was observed on (this date) at an area within the city limits of Sarasota known for prostitution related crimes. The driver or occupant of your vehicle engaged in conversation with either: (1) a known prostitute (an individual who has been previously convicted of a violation of Florida States 796.07) or (2) an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a prostitute.”

In October 2014, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that only five “Dear John” letters had been sent since the adoption of the tactic earlier that year. When asked about the limited number of letters sent by police, an SPD representative reported that while the department is “still sending letters, however they are few and far between… because of the proactivity by the Sarasota Police Department on the North Trail area,” adding that SPD officers arrested 73 sex buyers between January 1 and October 14, 2014.

Employment Loss, Identity Disclosure:

Employment loss is another consequence of sex buying that has occurred within the county.  For example, in September, 2014, bus driver has been arrested for “soliciting a prostitute” while he was on duty. The Sarasota County Area Transit driver attempted to negotiate a $20 sex act with what he thought was a prostituted woman but was actually an undercover police officer. The man was charged with “procuring a prostitute” and lewdness, and was released on a $120 cash bond. He was initially placed on administrative leave.  He had worked for the county for approximately five years. A County spokesperson said that all employees are required to sign an ethics pledge, and that the county has “… a zero tolerance policy for instances such as this.”  There were no passengers on board the bus, which is usually used for special needs passengers. The alleged incident occurred on the Tamiami Trail.

Public Education:

In October of 2014, the SPD announced it had developed and would release a televised public service announcement warning local sex buyers that the department would continue to conduct reverse stings to arrest those soliciting sex in Sarasota. According to a local news affiliate:

“In a scene, you see a woman walking along a street. An officer’s voice says, ‘Is this a prostitute or a police officer? Do you think you can tell the difference? Roll the dice if you dare.'”

In 2019, Florida became the first state to declare itself as a “Child Trafficking Free Zone” when the The State Board of Education unanimously approved a new rule requiring instruction in child trafficking prevention for students in grades K-12. With this approval, Florida will be the first state in the nation to address the need for instruction in child trafficking prevention. The new rule also establishes procedures for school districts to plan and document delivery of the required instruction. Schools were required to have created a curriculum by December 1st, 2019 in addition to submitting annual program reviews by July 1st. To view an example of an implementation plan click HERE. Former prostituted women have also spoken out about the benefits and value that having educational programs for child trafficking in Florida will provide for young girls, especially how these programs will prevent many girls from entering prostitution or from missing red flags of sex trafficking.

The new law, HB 851, effective July 1st, 2019,  requires educating employees of massage parlors, hotels and adult theaters to recognize the red flags and evidence associated with human trafficking, and calls for these employees to report any suspicious activity to the confidential National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-3737-888). Furthermore, those convicted of soliciting prostitution in the state of Florida will be subject to heavy fines and included in a new Soliciting for Prostitution Public Database. Fines will be used to help survivors of this crime. In addition, The amendment requires the OPPAGA to complete a study by January 1, 2023, on the effectiveness of the Soliciting for Prostitution Database and provide a recommendation as to whether it should remain in operation or be repealed. The law reclassifies strip clubs to “adult theaters” since the clubs illegally employ underage victims who commonly are runaways or products of the foster care system and become trapped by sex trafficking rings. Education of law enforcement personnel is also a big component of the law, to aid in their enforcement efforts and help them to understand that sex trafficking is not a choice.

More information regarding HB 851:

More information regarding OPPAGA’s Soliciting for Prostitution Public Database:

John School:

A news report from July 2017 included discussion of tactics used in Sarasota. The chief assistant state attorney in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties said that that those arrested for soliciting for prostitution in Sarasota must attend a “john school,” a one-day class emphasizes direct consequences like sexually transmitted diseases as well as the suffering of trafficking victims. Sarasota also impounds the cars of the men police arrest on these stings, publishes press releases with sex buyers’ pictures, and may send letters addressed to the vehicle’s owner that states that someone in the car was interacting with a prostituted person or with an undercover officer posing as a prostituted person.

The organization, More Too Life, operated by Dr. Brook Bello, offers a “john school” program called Restorative Justice End Demand Education or (RJEDE™) also called Demanding More in Miami/Dade County is an up to 8-hour course, offered in English and Spanish, in person or online, that is focused on human trafficking and prostitution prevention. The program was created by Dr. Brook Parker-Bello of Youthiasm® founder of More Too Life, Inc.

To learn more about the RJEDE program, click HERE.

Our main-stream court appointed Demanding More with RJEDE™ in Florida is the first state approved course of its kind in partnership with states attorney Offices in Miami/Dade and the Advocate Program. Also in Sarasota County and Manatee County and part of Demanding More with our Restorative Justice End Demand Education. This mainstream course is contracted, and court appointed geared toward men who violated, are in recovery, incarcerated, pre and post jail or volunteer. It provides comprehensive education to men and boys along with sexual offenders, buyers, and men at risk of committing sexual violence or porn addiction in order to ignite honor and educate men and boys on their power they have.

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

SOAP Orders:

“Dear John” Letters:

Employment Loss:

Public Education:

John School:

Sex Trafficking in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Child Sexual Abuse Materials Related to Prostitution:

Local Prostitution Ordinances:

State Florida
Type County
Population 433742
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