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Recently, a Florida sheriff's department led an undercover human trafficking sting operation, in Polk County, hoping to arrest those who engage in prostitution as well as rescue victims of human trafficking. The sting, named "Operation Not So Silent Night," resulted in 114 arrests, as well as the discovery of 4 victims of human trafficking. The sting operation ran from December 8th through the 13th, and targeted both the sides of the problem.
Law enforcement placed ads online and responded to ads online in order to engage their suspects. When a potential buyer or prostitute arrived, law enforcement would make the arrest. The arrests were almost evenly split between those offering and those paying. Unfortunately, one officer was groped by a suspect before the arrest was made.
Solicitation and Prostitution Penalties
The crimes of prostitution and of soliciting prostitution are different crimes, and each state has different rules and penalties that apply to each. Typically, first offenses, which are usually charged as misdemeanors, can frequently avoid jail time if a person has an otherwise clean record. Repeat offenses can lead to more severe consequences.
In most states, the crime of solicitation only requires that a person communicate their desire to engage in an illegal act with another person, and for the communicator to have the specific intent to follow through on the illegal act. The crime of prostitution on the other hand is usually considered a crime once a person makes the offer of sex in exchange for money, or once that offer is agreed to by another.
The High Bar of Entrapment
When people get caught up in sting operations, the word entrapment gets thrown around quite liberally. However, entrapment rarely applies, and even more rarely will make a difference. Generally, entrapment occurs when a government agent tricks or convinces a person to commit a criminal act. However, if it can be proven that the act would have taken place without government involvement, then entrapment will not be a viable defense (and in most cases, it will be provable). Most notably, a "To Catch a Predator" defendant was cleared of charges based on an entrapment defense.