Florida sheriff outs and endangers trans women arrested for sex work
In a most recent sting operation dubbed “Operation Naughty Not Nice” the Polk County Sherriff’s Department, in conjunction with Lakeland Police Department, held a five-day-long undercover investigation in December focusing on individuals who allegedly advertised prostitution services in online ads. During the operation undercover detectives responded to ads posted online and arrested a total of 95 suspects, including sex workers, their clients, and others who were arrested for related offenses.
Of the 50 charged with prostitution 4 were specifically identified as "a transgender," "a transvestite," or "transsexual." In addition to outing the trans status of these individuals, the news release repeatedly misgendered the individuals and published their birth names on the Sherriff’s website.
Despite not having been convicted of a crime, many of these suspect’s places of work, previous legal history and whether they were on public assistance and how much were reported. Although these efforts could have been utilized to focus on individuals coercive situations (e.g. human trafficking), instead the investigation and subsequent reporting of this operation specifically sought out private information about each suspect in an attempt to publically shame them with little-to-no-regard for their rights, circumstances of the incident, or injury to the party.
This kind of shameful, irresponsible policing and reporting is not new in Polk County. Five years ago, I worked as a case worker in Central Florida, and I vividly remember transgender clients from the clinic where I worked who were arrested in a very similar sting operation orchestrated by Sheriff Grady Judd. The Sheriff seems to take tremendous pride in criminalizing people’s way of survival and publicly degrading them. A statement by the Sherriff on the Polk County website reads:
“We’ve seen firsthand the negative social costs of how prostitution hurts families, children, and communities. And more often than not, there is a high correlation between other crimes and prostitution. We see repeat criminal offenders with criminal arrest histories to include illegal drugs, violent crime, and property crime, and these repeat criminal offenders engage in sex for money.”
Sheriff Grady Judd shows a complete misunderstanding of the sex trade and how the criminalization of it harms the individuals engaged in sex work. This report harms families and communities by outing individuals who have merely been arrested, by sharing private details that could subject the individuals to further harassment and violence, in nasty public shaming of people for being poor, being transgender, and trying to survive. It infuriates me that in the five years I’ve been away from my home state at no point has the Sherriff ever bothered to ask – Why is it that people engage in sex work in the first place? And, what can we as a community do to help these individuals who are engaged in sex work to have opportunities to stay safe, pay their bills, and in many cases feed their families?
Florida is one of many states that does not extend employment and housing protections on the basis of gender identity or expression. A newly released report titled “Meaningful Work: Transgender Experiences in the Sex Trade” takes an extensive look at various factors that lead many within the trans community to engage in sex work. The report found that an overwhelming majority (69.3%) of sex workers reported having experienced an adverse job outcome in the traditional workforce, such as being denied a job or promotion or being fired because of their gender identity or expression (vs. 44.7% of non-sex workers). Those who lost a job due to anti-transgender bias were almost three times as likely to engage in the sex trade (19.9% vs. 7.7%). While trans people of all genders and racial and ethnic groups reported trading sex in significant numbers, Black and Latina trans women were the most likely to say they had done so at some point in their lives.
Unfortunately, Polk County is not alone in using these reprehensible and dangerous tactics. Police and sheriff departments throughout the country have widely adopted the public naming and shaming of arrestees for sex work-related offenses who have never had their day in court. This kind of careless and unnecessary public shaming ruins lives, and can be especially harmful for LGBT people. In Illinois, for example, the Cook County Sheriff Office was called out in 2012 for outing transgender women online and listing them as “johns” after their arrests for solicitation, apparently based on the fact that their ID listed them as male.
This form of aggressive policing and egregious public shaming shows a complete disregard for the rights of trans people involved in the sex trade. These tactics are not only counterproductive but serve to further marginalize trans people and place them at increasing risk for discrimination and violence.
***Special Note to Media***
In an effort to avoid inflicting more damage on the victims of “Operation Naughty Not Nice” and to respect the privacy of the individuals whose names were released by the Polk County Sherriff’s Department, NCTE requests that media outlets not use the names or link to the press release from this operation. We have provided a redacted press release in this article.***
Public Information Officer News Date: 12/14/2015
"Operation Naughty Not Nice" -- Polk County Sheriff’s & Lakeland Police Undercover Detectives Arrest 95 During Five-Day-Long Prostitution Investigation
During a five-day-long undercover investigation from Wednesday, December 9th through Sunday, December 13th, 2015, focusing on those who advertise prostitution services in online ads, Polk County Sheriff’s and Lakeland Police undercover detectives arrested a total of 95 suspects. During the investigation, female undercover detectives posted fictitious ads online, and male undercover detectives responded to ads posted online by others. The three types of suspects arrested were: those who responded to the ads posted by the undercover detectives, or “johns;” those who came to the undercover location to have sex for money, or “prostitutes;” and others associated with both types of suspects.
PCSO was assisted by the Lakeland Police Department during this investigation.
The suspects ranged in age from 15 - 68 years old; one suspect (███████) was driven to the location by her live-in boyfriend (███████), with their two-year-old child in the waiting car; four of the suspects were two different sets of identical twin sisters who arrived together (███████;███████); one of the suspects (███████) was arrested by PCSO during the same type of investigation in December 2014 – he was just sentenced to probation in that case. One suspect (███████) arrived by bicycle and wearing a “French maid” costume under his clothes; one suspect (███████) teaches at ███████.
“We’ve seen firsthand the negative social costs of how prostitution hurts families, children, and communities. And more often than not, there is a high correlation between other crimes and prostitution. We see repeat criminal offenders with criminal arrest histories to include illegal drugs, violent crime, and property crime, and these repeat criminal offenders engage in sex for money. There is also a direct nexus between prostitution and human trafficking, and we are committed to identifying victims of human trafficking and getting them into programs and out of lives of crime.” Sheriff Grady Judd
Of the 95 suspects arrested:
· 50 were prostitutes
· 33 were “johns,” or those who solicited to pay for prostitution
· 12 others were arrested for related charges (see below)
· 17 told detectives they were married
· 25 told detectives they were on public assistance
· 28 are Polk County residents
In all, detectives filed 21 felony charges and 111 misdemeanor charges against the 95 suspects
Among the 95 suspects, there were a total of 205 previous felonies and 399 previous misdemeanor charges in their criminal histories.
A complete list of those arrested, grouped into 3 categories (johns, prostitutes, and other) follows:
23. ███████, DOB ███████, of ███████; charged with Soliciting Prostitution. He told detectives he works at ███████. He solicited the undercover female detective to dominate him, and showed up to the location wearing a “French maid” outfit and a chastity belt. He rode his bicycle to the location because █████████████████████. He has 3 previous arrests for ███████, ███████, ███████ (███████).
19. ███████, ███████, of ███████; charged with: Prostitution; ███████ is a transvestite who arrived dressed as a female to have sex with an undercover male detective. He doesn’t have a criminal history.
20. ███████, DOB ███████, of ███████; charged with: Prostitution; ███████ is a transvestite who arrived dressed as a female to have sex with an undercover male detective. He doesn’t have a criminal history.
21. A 15-year-old girl, of ███████; charged with; Prostitution.
30. ███████, DOB ███████, of ███████; charged with: Prostitution. She told detectives she is transsexual, a waitress at ███████, and receives $194/month in gov’t assistance. She has several previous arrests for ███████, ███████, ███████, ███████, ███████, ███████, ███████ (███████) and a current warrant for her arrest from ███████.
███████, DOB ███████, of ███████; charged with Prostitution. He is a transgender and solicited an undercover male detective to engage in sexual activity in exchange for money. He was driven to the location by another transgender, ███████. He told detectives he is a cosmetologist and receives $188/month in gov’t assistance. He has one previous arrest for ███████ (███████).