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CBS12 Investigates: Sex for Sale

A CBS12 Investigates hidden camera special report exposes sex shops operating in the same busy strip malls you and your family shop. (WPEC)

CBS12 Investigates uncovered sex shops operating in area strip malls that look like any other business there.

CBS12 Investigates went with Payton Investigations, a professional P.I. firm, to various business locations throughout Palm Beach County that advertise sex.

SEVEN LOCATIONS

Private Investigator John Rode took undercover video of people offering sex for sale.

"When I immediately walked in, she said, ‘It's $200 for a half hour. $400 for an hour.’ I said, ‘What is that for?’ She said, ‘Any type of sex you want."

Rode is a former cop who now often investigates child exploitation cases.

"It is not just prostitution. It is human trafficking because there are women here, underage girls, that are involved in this or those that are legal age and forced into this," he said.

In Palm Beach County, Rode said he easily found seven locations selling sex.

All of them were located in strip malls or hotels.

At each location, Rode recorded undercover video.

Seconds later and with CBS12 cameras rolling, we asked the women at the businesses if they were there against their will and if they were engaged in prostitution.

Some said, “No.” Others said nothing at all.

We also asked what kind of services they offered at the store.

Two of them said they did body wrapping, but that's not what hidden cameras caught just seconds earlier.

When we asked for their licenses, they told us to leave.

SECRETS AND LIES

The National Trafficking Hotline ranks Florida third in the nation for human trafficking.

"They are brought here in the pretext of getting a job somewhere else," Rode explained. "Once they have them here, they take their passport. They have no money, no car, no cell phone, and they are forced into prostitution."

Slick ads saturate online classifieds like Backpage.com.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited children, 73 percent of all child trafficking tips the center receives are tied to Backpage.

"The average person has no clue it's going on," Rode said.

The owners of the spaces rented may not know sex is being sold because at first glance, it seems like a legitimate business.

CRACKING DOWN

But Rode says the police know.

"That place has been there over a year," he said. "We notified law enforcement in Palm Beach County months ago."

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's office said they've set up a task force with the FBI and the State Attorney's office to combat the crime, but they would not talk about their ongoing investigations.

We showed State Attorney Dave Aronberg the undercover video.

“This is something our task force should see," he said.

We asked why law enforcement isn’t shutting down these businesses.

"It can be frustrating. I realize to see some of the folks are operating in broad daylight next to businesses. Our task force has taken a lead and since January," Aronberg said. “We've made 21 arrests of individuals who have been engaged in this conduct."

However, only half were charged with human trafficking.

"You have to catch them soliciting, and then it's prostitution," Aronberg said. “It is not necessarily force, fraud or coercion and to get that you need a victim to speak up, a cooperating victim, if you don't have that you can charge them with other crimes but it won't be human trafficking."

SHUTTING DOWN THE BUSINESS

We discovered those arrests haven't shut down any of these businesses.

Yet, CBS12 Investigates has.

After we showed the owner of an area strip mall what we found, he asked the business for a valid license, and when they couldn't produce one, the landlord kicked them out.

It was a similar story everywhere we went; no one wanted to talk on camera to try and explain how a legitimate business has sex for sale.

Right now, there is a bill in the U.S. Senate called the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017.

The proposed law would potentially hold Backpage and other social media sites liable for criminal material on their pages.

Backpage refused to respond to our requests for comment on this story.

If you see a person who may be a victim of human trafficking, call the Palm Beach County Human Trafficking hotline at 561-598-9848.

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