Last week, we wrote a blog post about Florida’s intention to crack down on sex trafficking. Sex traffickers bring individuals over state or national borders using coercion, fraud, or force, and make the victims engage in sex work against their will.
Florida – particularly Miami and the Pensacola areas – are known as hot spots for sex trafficking and prostitution. So it didn’t take long for law enforcement to make a huge prostitution bust. How big? “Operation Not So Silent Night” resulted in the arrest of over 100 individuals.
Husbands, Fathers, Former Officers Arrested in Operation Not So Silent Night
Matthew Irvin of Oakland, Florida told his wife in early December that he was going out to shop for Christmas gifts for her and the couple’s children. Instead of buying presents, he snuck out to an undercover location to have sex with a prostitute.
He received a not-so-jolly surprise when the prostitute ended up being an undercover cop, who arrested Irvin, 50. He was just one of 114 suspects arrested in the six-day-long undercover operation set up in Polk County to catch individuals either soliciting prostitutes online or offering prostitutes through human trafficking rings.
The bust exposed police to offenders from all walks of life. Included in the suspects arrested was the Director of Elementary Curriculum at the Osceola County School Board and a police officer who had been retired for decades. Multiple suspects were trying to solicit sex from minors, and over two dozen suspects had spouses waiting at home while they went to meet prostitutes.
Additionally, Polk County officials said that of the 114 suspects arrested, four were alleged victims of human trafficking. One suspect is also believed to be a part of an international human trafficking ring.
Who Gets Arrested and Charged For Prostitution?
Let’s talk a bit more about the victims of human trafficking that were arrested in Operation Not So Silent Night. During a press conference, Sherriff Grady Judd said that law enforcement was “exceptionally pleased that we were able to potentially identify four victims of human trafficking, which is the goal of this operation.” Human traffickers often force their victims into sex work, so it is fair for prostitutes to get charged with a crime if they are working against their will?
Prostitution, or engaging in the solicitation or exchange of sexual favors for money is a crime in Florida. The charge is a second degree misdemeanor, and convicted offenders will face up to 60 days in prison and/or up to $500 in fines. The same penalties stand for anyone who offers money in exchange for sex, or rents property for the purpose of prostitution.
If the prostitute is infected with HIV/AIDS, and engages in prostituting knowing their status, they face penalties of up to five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine. (For all other sexually transmitted diseases, the penalties are lowered to one year in prison and up to a $1,000 fine.)
Individuals who engage in pandering or living off the money made by prostitutes (called “pimps” or “johns”) are punished more severely. If a john forces someone into prostitution, the penalties include up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. If the prostitute is a minor, the penalties are severely increased. The same goes for individuals convicted of human trafficking. The maximum prison sentence was increased in 2012 to 30 years behind bars.
Defenses to Prostitution or Human Trafficking Charges
114 suspects were arrested, but that does not mean we will be seeing 114 more people in Florida prisons. An arrest is not a charge, nor is it a conviction. If the four suspects that were alleged victims of human trafficking were forced into prostitution, they will have a solid defense to fight against any solicitation charges.
If you have been charged with engaging in prostitution, whether you are a sex worker or a person who simply made a mistake, you have options for defending yourself in court. Common defense strategies for prostitution-related charges include:
- Entrapment: Being coerced into soliciting prostitution from an undercover officer
- Not for Hire: The arrangement was made without the exchange of money or goods
- Unaware of HIV/AIDS status: You engaged in sexual acts without knowing that you were infected with HIV/AIDS; this defense won’t help with a prostitution charge itself, but it can help to get the much more severe charge associated with knowingly infecting others dropped
Individuals who are charged with soliciting a minor cannot use lack of knowledge about the victim’s age as a defense.
If you are accused of any prostitution or human trafficking-related crime, it is important to get on the phone with a Florida prostitution lawyer immediately to give yourself the best chance at a positive outcome.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.