The Lakeland Ledger Nov. 9 2019 Gary White
Polk County Sheriff’s Office says its frequent prostitution stings help curtail human trafficking. But cases are complex and difficult to prove, so few arrests result in prosecutions on trafficking charges.
LAKELAND — In what has become a familiar occurrence, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd stood in front of media members in October 2017 to announce 277 arrests during a prostitution sting.
Flanked by a poster board bearing mug shots of those arrested, Judd said the weeklong undercover mission — dubbed “Operation No Tricks No Treats” — was intended to combat human trafficking. He said the sting identified five potential victims of sex trafficking and one alleged trafficker.
Judd’s office reported that Anthony Camacho of Orlando drove a 17-year-old girl to Polk County so she could engage in sex for money. The girl, described as a runaway from Virginia, was arrested on drug charges and referred to an anti-trafficking rescue organization, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office said.
But Camacho, 23 at the time of his arrest, was never prosecuted for human trafficking. Court records show that in December 2018, the State Attorney’s Office filed a “no bill” notice on the charge “due to insufficient evidence.”
Judd has conducted at least 11 large-scale prostitution stings since 2013 that he publicly said were aimed at combating sex trafficking, resulting in more than 1,000 arrests. A review of court records found only one case that resulted in a successful prosecution on a human trafficking charge, though some potential prosecutions are still active.
Montavius Rakeem Postell of Orlando, arrested during a 2013 undercover operation, eventually pleaded guilty to a trafficking charge. PCSO said Postell, 22 at the time of his arrest, served as a pimp for a 15-year-old girl.
What Is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide — including right here in the United States. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.
Does the lack of prosecutions for human trafficking mean the Sheriff’s Office has failed in its quest to combat the practice? Or could it mean sex trafficking isn’t as prevalent as Judd and others in law enforcement suggest?