West Palm Beach, 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

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.

John School:

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.

Key Sources

John School:

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Sting:

Identity Disclosure:

Community Service:

Neighborhood Action:

Auto Seizure:

License Suspension:

Background on Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, Related CSAM:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Florida
Type City
Population 117286
Comments are closed.