Tampa, FL

Tactics Used

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

Tampa is a city of about 400,000 residents situated on the Gulf coast of Florida, and serves as the government seat of Hillsborough County. The city and the surrounding areas of the county are known to have substantial activity in sex trafficking and prostitution, which generates a wide range of related crimes, including cases of prostitution-related homicide.  For example, in May, 2022 Hillsborough prosecutors announced they would  seek the death penalty for a man they had accused of committing two separate murders in 2021 in Tampa. The offender faced two counts of first-degree murder for the stabbing of two women were both homeless and had survived through prostitution. Court records and testimony indicate that DNA and other evidence linked the man to both crimes. A written notice filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court a list of aggravating circumstances that the state says apply to both murders. They include that the man was convicted of a prior felony (sex offenses), and that the killings were especially “heinous, atrocious or cruel.” A construction crew found one of the victims – a 54 year old woman – dead in an abandoned house that was set to be demolished on East Sligh Ave. A detective later testified that she had been stabbed close to 60 times.  Six weeks later, someone called 911 in the early morning to report that someone was lying on the ground, covered in blood, beside a house that was being remodeled about two miles from where the first woman was murdered. A man was standing over her, and he was later identified and apprehended. When detectives questioned him, the defendant admitted he’d paid the second woman for sex, according to court testimony.

Tampa agencies and those with whom they collaborate within the county and from neighboring communities have pursued a wide range of strategies focusing on the demand for commercial sex as a means of combating prostitution and sex trafficking, and the numerous related crimes they produce.  These tactics include both street-level and web-based reverse stings, a john school, SOAP orders, shaming, vehicle seizures, neighborhood based initiatives, and public education efforts.

Tampa has – at times – arrested sex buyers with enough regularity to supply a john school program with participants in the early to mid 2000s, but by about the end of 2008 the police department turned their attention to other priorities, and rarely conducted reverse stings.  While not disbanded, there were insufficient numbers of sex buyers arrested, and few referrals to the program.  Reverse stings appear to have been conducted at least once per year between 2010 and 2014.  Since about 2017-2018, the frequency appears to have increased, and some recent operations have been large-scale.  For example, between December 7, 2020 and January 9, 2021, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office conducted “Operation Interception,” a set of investigations and stings intended to deter sex trafficking leading up to the 2021 Super Bowl in Tampa.  On January 11, 2021 the Sheriff’s Office  announced the arrests of 71 individual sex buyers during the undercover operation.

In February 2012, Tampa established an exclusion zone that applies to sex buyers as well as those providing commercial sex.  The Prostitution Enforcement Zone covers the area from Fowler Avenue to the north, Seventh Avenue to the south, North 15th Street to the east and Florida Avenue to the west.  The zone applies to people who have been charged for the third time (or more) with a prostitution offense. Upon a third arrest, the misdemeanor prostitution charge can be upgraded to a felony and the State Attorney’s Office can ask judges to put offenders on probation and ban them from the area. Exceptions would be limited to activities like visiting a doctor or buying groceries.

Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the city. For example, in March, 1991, a veteran television news anchorman resigned after admitting his guilt on charges of “procuring prostitution” from a teenage girl, his second prostitution-related arrest. The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office had filed a three-count information charging the suspect with procuring a person under the age of 16 for prostitution, soliciting for prostitution and engaging in prostitution. The charge involving the minor was a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The other two charges were second-degree misdemeanors, punishable by up to 60 days in jail for each. The charges are the result of an investigation conducted by Tampa police and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office. All of the alleged crimes occurred in June 1990. The girl’s age was not disclosed except to say she was “under 16.” The 56-year-old anchorman for Tampa television station WTVT surrendered to face the charges, according to the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office. Prior to his 1991 resignation, the man had been employed for more than 27 years at WTVT. In 1982, the same man had publicly apologized after pleading guilty to a charge of soliciting prostitution after he had propositioned an undercover vice officer.

In January, 2021, an attorney based in Tampa was disbarred for filming his own sexual encounter with at least one female inmate for the production of a pornographic video. At that time, he was already been suspended following his convictions for solicitation of prostitution and bringing contraband into county detention facilities. The man had solicited sex inside attorney-client visitation rooms at two separate jail facilities in Florida. According to the summary of Florida Supreme Court’s ruling to disbar him, the lawyer  had“ abused his privilege to practice law.” The man had also drawn up a modeling contract for inmates, where women would have to agree not to reveal his identity. In one instance, the offender had paid a woman $10 after recording her give oral sex to him at the Falkenburg Road Jail in Hillsborough County.

Key Sources

John School:

Reverse Stings:

Loss of Employment:

Arrest of Sex Buyers, Disclosure of Identities:

Auto Seizure:

Neighborhood Action:

SOAP Orders and License Suspension:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Florida
Type City
Population 387916
Location
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