St. Johns County is a county of just under 200,000 residents, located on the northeastern shore of Florida. St. Augustine is the county seat and largest city. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the communities and unincorporated areas of the county. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results 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 in their strategy for prevention and response. In addition to city-level efforts to combat prostitution, local law enforcement sometimes conducts countywide reverse stings to apprehend sex buyers. For example, in August 2014, for example, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office arrested 14 people at an undisclosed hotel in the area during an investigation targeting “men and women soliciting sex or offering sexual favors in return for monetary compensation by advertising on a social media site.” Following the operation, the SJCSO released the names of each of the arrestees to the public, but did not disclose the specific charges filed against them. According to media reports, at least one john was arrested during the operation; seven other men were also arrested, but it is unclear if they were attempting to procure, purchase or offer commercial sex.
In 2018, it was announced that over the prior seven years, St. Johns County undercover operations using the internet to locate and identify people looking to sexually exploit children had led to 75 arrests. In April 2019, an announcement was made about the arrest of nine men in a child sex sting that was orchestrated by St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office undercover detectives. The undercover detectives posed as children online and arranged meetings with unknown individuals in St. Johns County. Nine individuals traveled in an attempt to solicit children and were arrested, according to the Sheriff’s Office.Their identities were included in news releases.
- St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office
- Web-Based Reverse Stings with Shaming:
- “Detective Arrested for Prostitution in St. Johns County”, NBC/WFGA-TV 12, August 18 2014.
- “More than a Dozen Hooked in Prostitution Sting”, St. Augustine Historic City News, August 18 2014.
- “Palatka Detective Charged in Prostitution Sting; 14 Arrested in Operation Summer Lovin’ in St. Johns County”, WJXT-TV 4, August 18 2014.
- “Palatka Police Detective Arrested in St. Johns County Operation Summer Lovin’ Sting”, St. Augustine Record, August 18 2014.
- “Palatka Detective Arrested in Prostitution Sting’, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, August 19 2014.
- https://www.wftv.com/news/local/florida-sheriff-arrests-17-men-in-online-sex-sting (2017)
- https://www.news4jax.com/news/florida/st-johns-county/10th-arrest-made-in-st-johns-county-sex-sting (2018)
- https://www.actionnewsjax.com/9-men-arrested-in-child-sex-sting-st-johns-county-sheriff-s-office (2019)
- Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Statewide Prostitution Ring Busted”, St. Augustine Record, September 13 2000.
- “Woman Accused of Running Prostitution Ring in 7 Cities”, Fort Pierce Tribune, September 13 2000.
- Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Slayings Suspect Identified”, Miami Herald, April 5 1997.
- “Suspected in 7 Slayings, St. Johns Ties Man to Deaths”, Florida Times Union, April 5 1997.
- “Panel Indicts Lindsey; Man Faces Death in Six Killings”, Florida Times Union, November 11 1997.