March 21, 2017, Polk County, FL
A six-day undercover human trafficking sting resulted in 104 arrests in Polk County, FL.
The arrests include people who advertised online for sex or responded to internet-based ads set up by undercover agents.
Among those arrested include Dirk Watson, an Air Force captain and Little League coach. Watson traveled to Polk County from his home in Merritt Island to have sex with an underage girl while his family was away at Disney.
“He had horrible, graphic communications online with an undercover detective who clearly indicated that she was only 14 years of age,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. When Watson showed to meet the girl, he was arrested.
In all, 51 purchasers of sex, known as “Johns,” were arrested in the operation. 14 others were arrested on charges such as deriving proceeds from prostitution. In most cases, these are the traffickers or pimps who took the money from those they forced into prostitution. If their victims testify against them, they could be charged with human trafficking.
38 women were also arrested for prostitution. “We suspect that some of the people who arrived at our undercover location are victims of human trafficking,” Sheriff Judd said in a statement. Many of these women are most likely victims who have been manipulated and forced to sell their bodies.
The operation, nicknamed “Operation March Sadness,” was one of the largest in the county’s history. Sheriff Judd has held many similar stings in the past and is committed to ending human trafficking.
Word is getting out that it is not safe to buy sex in Polk County. Investigators said for every 10 calls they received, only one showed up after hearing the words “Polk County.” This means they received over 500 calls from people interested in buying sex!
Polk County is increasing the risk associated with purchasing sex. This deterrent is a big step in the fight against human trafficking. Without buyers, traffickers will be put out of business. We pray that day will come soon!
by Blair Pippin
Creative & Prevention Director • Florida Abolitionist