West Palm Beach, FL
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West Palm Beach is a city of approximately 117,000 residents, located in Palm Beach County in southeastern Florida. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been persistent local problems for decades and a wide range of crimes associated with the local sex trade have been well documented. For example, sex buyers have been set up by prostituted persons and pimps to be assaulted and robbed. There have been cases of murderers and serial rapists specifically targeting prostituted persons in the city, as well as the murder of sex buyers. In May 2019, a 27-year-old West Palm Beach man was sentenced to 15 years in prison after admitting he forced a 15-year-old girl “to work as a prostitute” and took photos and videos of her performing sex.
To attempt to reduce the crimes associated with the local sex trade, the city was one of the nation’s “early adopters” of tactics that targeted the underlying demand for prostitution. The West Palm Beach Police Department began conducting reverse stings in 1976, using undercover female officers as decoys. In 2001, a large-scale street-level reverse sting yielded over 100 sex buyer arrests. Large scale street-level reverse stings were still conducted on a routine basis though about 2013. However, in more recent street-level reverse stings, fewer than 10 sex buyers are arrested in each operation. Recent street-level reverse strings have been extremely localized, use only one decoy officer, and only last a few hours. For example, in May 2018, two street-level reverse stings only produced a total of seven arrests.
While most of the operations have been street-level, WPB police have conducted web-based reverse stings. For example, in July of 2017, police arrested two West Palm Beach men for soliciting sex online through Backpage and Craigslist. The male sex buyers were arrested upon agreeing to pay undercover officers cash in exchange for sexual services.
City police began releasing the names of arrested sex buyers in the 1986. The practice has continued steadily since then, although it is perhaps most associated with former Mayor Nancy Graham. In 1992, after the Palm Beach Post refused to release the names of arrested sex buyers within the newspaper, Mayor Nancy Graham purchased a quarter page space with the city’s money and ran the names herself. She believed that this would help reduce the deter sex buyers and ultimately reduce the demand for commercial sex overall. Around the same time, the city began experimenting with license suspension and auto seizure as punishment for intercepted sex buyers.
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, a HIV blood test, mandatory attendance at four court hearings for prostituted women, and “reading a 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 that 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 in the class 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 have 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 arrested sex buyers were arrested on misdemeanor charges of prostitution and could face up to a year in jail, community service and 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, collaborates 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 lead 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.
- Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) – Official Site
- Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE)
- Hepzibah House
- “Prostitution Prevention Program Hooks Johns”, Palm Beach Post, October 18 2000.
- “West Palm Beach Class Educates on the Dangers of Trading Money for Sex”, Palm Beach Post, December 26 2009.
- “To Stop Johns, West Palm Beach Program Tells Truth About Prostitution”, Palm Beach Post, February 23 2013.
- “Undercover Prostitution Sting Nets 7 Arrests in West Palm Beach,” NBC/WPTV-TV 5, February 11 2016.
- PIPE Founder Reports Only 22 Participants Out of 3,200 Have Reoffended from 2000 to 2015 (2016)
- https://www.jacksonville.com/news/20190301/schooling-johns-how-palm-beach-county-handles-prostitution-arrests (2019)
- International Human Trafficking Ring Uncovered in West Palm Beach, FL (2019)
- Hepzibah House Hosts John School in West Palm Beach Florida (2019)
- 4,200 First Time Offenders Complete the PIPE program, Only 1% Recidivism Rate (2020)
- https://cbs12.com/group-unveils-palm-beach-county-john-school-for-buyers-and-sellers-of-human-trafficking (2021)
- https://www.wpb.org/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/192/18 (2022)
Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Prostitute Patrons Being Arrested”, Palm Beach Daily News, June 24 1976.
- “Decoy Prostitutes Police Entrapment?”, Palm Beach Daily News , July 4 1976.
- “Prostitution Crackdown Nets 127 Men”, Palm Beach Post, March 8 1986.
- “Chief: Prostitution Raids to Continue”, Miami Herald, March 27 1986.
- “9 More Plead Guilty in Sex Solicitation Sting”, Palm Beach Post, April 16 1986.
- “74 Arrested for Soliciting Sex”, Miami Herald, September 18 1987.
- “113 People Arrested in 3-Day Prostitution Sweep in West Palm”, Miami Herald, February 14 1989.
- “100 Arrested in Prostitution Sweep”, Palm Beach Post, September 24 1989.
- “56 Men Arrested in Sting; Mayor on Scene for Prostitution Sweep”, Palm Beach Post, November 21 1992.
- “Johns Must Pay $250 or Spend Night in Jail”, Palm Beach Post, December 16 1992.
- “24 Accused Johns Can’t Pay $250, Spend Night in Jail”, Palm Beach Post, January 10 1993.
- “Teacher Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Palm Beach Post, January 12 1993.
- “Prostitution Arrests Down as Johns Play It Safe”, Palm Beach Post, March 6 1993.
- “Hooker Decoys Still Lure Men, Though Fewer”, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, April 3 1993.
- “Prostitution-Sting Suspect Asks State to Delay His Firing”, Palm Beach Post, April 8 1993.
- “Police Blotter”, Palm Beach Post, September 3 1994.
- “Police Blotter”, Palm Beach Post, February 24 1995.
- “County Agency Attorney Arrested in Hooker Sting”, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, June 30 1995.
- “Sunrise Officer Arrested; Man Allegedly Solicited Prostitute”, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, July 22 1998.
- “Police Blotter”, Palm Beach Post, May 27 2000.
- “West Palm Beach”, Palm Beach Post, July 25 2000.
- “West Palm Beach Vice Sweep Nets 122 Arrests in 5 Days”, Palm Beach Post, December 11 2001.
- “Founder of PSL Church Charged in Prostitution Sting”, Fort Pierce Hometown News, November 9 2007.
- “VIDEO: West Palm Beach Police Conduct Prostitution Sting”, ABC/WPBF-TV 25, September 28 2010.
- “Prostitution Sting in Suburban West Palm Beach Lands 26 in Jail”, Palm Beach Post, January 28 2011.
- “17 Arrested in West Palm Beach Prostitution Sting”, Palm Beach Post, February 19 2011.
- “17 Arrested in West Palm Beach Prostitution Sting”, Palm Beach Post, July 8 2011.
- “West Palm Beach Officer Dragged 100 Feet by Car”, Palm Beach Post, April 14 2012.
- “Prostitution Sting in West Palm Leads to 10 Arrests”, Palm Beach Post, March 12 2013.
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/latest-west-palm-beach-prostitution-sting-leads-five-men-arrest0s/ (2017)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/new-west-palm-police-arrest-nine-prostitution-stings/ (2018)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/breaking-four-arrested-west-palm-beach-prostitution-sting (2018)
- https://www.wptv.com/three-arrested-west-palm-beach-police-human-trafficking-prostitution-bust (2018)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/three-arrested-human-trafficking-prostitution-charges-west-palm/ (2018)
- http://www.wflx.com/story/3-arrested-in-trafficking-prostitution-bust (2018)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/west-palm-prostitution-sting-nets-5-arrests (2018)
- https://www.wptv.com/wpb-police-net-9-johns-in-prostitution-sting (2019)
- Palm Beach Post Refused to Release the Names of Arrested Sex Buyers (2019)
- https://cbs12.com/7-men-arrested-in-prostitution-crackdown-in-west-palm-beach (2021)
Web-Based Reverse Sting:
- “Mayor Wants to Take Out Ads Exposing Identities of Prostitutes’ Clients”, Chicago Tribune, November 29 1992.
- “Newspaper Ad Names Suspects”, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, December 7 1992.
- “Cities Not Shy About Naming Names”, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, February 7 1994.
- “West Palm Beach Officials Consider Publishing Names of Arrested Prostitution Clients”, Palm Beach Post, May 24 2011.
- “Repeat Offender Johns’ to Be Posted on West Palm Website, in Anti-Prostitution Effort”, Palm Beach Post, October 18 2011.
- Palm Beach Post Refused to Release the Names of Arrested Sex Buyers (2019)
- “27 in Prostitution Sting Accept Plea; Each to Pay $175, Do Service for Clean Record”, Palm Beach Post, December 9 1992.
- “Experts: Johns Get Cheap Thrill, Lots of Risks”, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, January 17 1993.
- “Is a Name News If He’s a ‘John’?”, Palm Beach Post, December 4 1992.
- “Residents Set Up Surveillance in Effort to Combat Prostitution”, CBS/WPEC-TV 12, October 10 2013.
- “Police Blotter”, Palm Beach Post, August 21 1996.
- “Fee to Recover Impounded Cars at $1,000”, Miami Herald, April 7 1998.
- “Taking the War on Prostitution to the Streets”, Miami Herald, November 22 1999.
Background on Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, Related CSAM:
- “Men Ordered to Pay Former Sexual Slaves”, Mount Airy News, April 19 1999.
- “Six-Figure Bail Set in Prostitution Slave Case; Judge Dismisses Charge Against One of 3 at Hearing”, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, November 26 2008.
- “West Palm Beach Massage Parlor Owner Charged with Money Laundering, Forcing Women into Prostitution”, Palm Beach Post, April 19 2010.
- “West Palm Beach Woman Faces Life Sentence for Sex Trafficking”, Palm Beach Post, April 12 2012.
- “Two Go down for West Palm Beach Prostitution Ring that Preyed on Drug-Addicted Teens,” Palm Beach Post, November 6 2014.
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/west-palm-beach-prostitution-sting-nets-11-arrests (2018)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com//prostitution-sting-leads-to-four-arrests-in-palm-beach (2019)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/west-palm-man-gets-15-years-for-sex-trafficking-of-girl-15 (2019)
- https://www.sun-sentinel.com/fl-ne-palm-human-trafficking (2020)
- https://bocanewsnow.com/prostitution-charge-for-boynton-beach-woman/ (2020)
Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Former Cop Charged in Prostitute’s Death,” Lakeland Ledger, March 5 1994.
- “Prostitute’s Killer Sentenced to 15 Years to Plea Bargain,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, September 12 1996.
- “Man Acquitted in 2006 Murder of Prostitute,” Palm Beach Post, December 16 2010.
- “West Palm Police: Man Attacked Prostitute who Refused to Work for Him,” Palm Beach Post, May 28 2015.
- “Trial Begins for Man Accused of Killing Cross-Dressing Prostitute,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, June 1 2015.
- “Jurors Hear Taped Statement from Man Accused of Killing Cross-Dressing Prostitute,” Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, June 16 2015.
- https://www.kjrh.com/florida-prostitute-accused-of-setting-up-customer-to-rob-him (2018)
- https://www.wpbf.com/officials-arrest-man-say-shot-killed-failing-pay-prostitute (2022)
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