JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Parents say enough is enough, telling the I-TEAM their kids have to walk to and from school while prostitutes work up and down the same street. Students from elementary school to high school say it's something they see nearly every single day.
"How old are you?" we asked Jayden Walls, who was standing with her mother.
"I am 10," answered the Woodland Acres Elementary School student.
"What have you seen?" we asked.
"I see them (prostitutes) like today. I see them, because I walk down right here to school," she pointed. "I seen this one lady actually, she jumped in the car with somebody, and they stopped and they asked her if she like needs a ride and stuff, and she just jumped in the car."
Jayden's mother, Carol Johnson, said her daughter has witnessed things no 10-year-old should see on the way to school. Johnson insisted we interview her daughter because she said she's fed up with the prostitutes who congregate near Alton Avenue.
"We have three little girls and so when they see stuff like that, I don't think it's safe for them to be exposed to these kind of things," said Johnson.
Right before News4Jax interviewed Jayden and her mom, we saw what appeared to be a prostitution transaction taking place right in front of us.
As our camera was rolling, a woman wearing a dark-colored sweatshirt was approached by a man driving an SUV. The two spoke for less than four seconds through the passenger side window, and then she jumped into his car.
We wanted to see what this was, so we followed the vehicle down Alton Street and then onto Atlantic Boulevard until they pulled off into an office park and parked in the back next to a dumpster -- where the SUV sat for 14 minutes.
No one got out of the SUV during that time, and after 14 minutes, the driver pulled away, traveled back in the same direction, and then the woman was dropped back off on Alton Street.
High school students said they see these kinds of transactions between drivers and women on the street at various times of the day.
"We see them in the morning, like mainly in the morning when we are walking towards the bus stop," said Stephon Joyner, a senior at Terry Parker High School.
Kids and parents living in the area said they want the prostitution and the crime that follows it to stop.
"I just wish people would just get their minds right," said Johnson.
"My dad lived in here (this neighborhood) his whole life too, so like, he tells us about it and he just says he's always told me, just walk straight home because it's a bad neighborhood," said 10-year-old Jayden.
Later that same day, the I-TEAM was on Jacksonville's Westside, in the Jacksonville Heights neighborhood near 103rd Street. Residents there told us the street-walking sex industry is so bad, they see what appears to be "Johns" picking up prostitutes right in front of their homes.
"My husband can sit on the sofa and see the transactions of the prostitutes and stuff. And he's been out here cutting the grass, and they'll do a transaction here and say, 'Oh I'm sorry! Forgive me!' because they know we're Christians," explained homeowner Maria Delvalle.
Delvalle says her neighborhood has earned an unwanted nickname.
"This neighborhood is called Hooterville -- even though it's Jacksonville Heights -- I guess because of the prostitutes," she said.
Also on the Westside, off Lane Avenue, the I-TEAM witnessed women standing on street corners for hours and getting into cars with people who appeared to be strangers.
"We see it mid-afternoon -- I don't see it in the evening because we close our doors -- but sometimes in the morning when I go out, I see them coming home," said Delvalle. "You feel unsafe."
Another area where you might be surprised people have reported prostitution to police is near the St. Johns Town Center on the Southside -- specifically, a hotel off Skinner Lake Drive.
A former Jacksonville prostitute, whose identity we are not revealing, told the I-TEAM her pimp rented out rooms at an Extended Stay America there for week at a time.
"Would you see families in the hotel room next to you?" we asked.
"Oh yeah! I'd see families coming in, you know, looked like they were on vacation with their children -- coming to stay the night. Outside, you know, bringing stuff in out of their car," she said.
"Little did they know..." we said.
"...What was going on next door," she said, finishing our thought.
"What was (going on next door)?" we asked.
"Drugs and prostitution," she answered.
We checked ourselves and found guests complained about prostitution at this Extended Stay America on TripAdvisor last February.
Management replied online:
"We take these matters very seriously and appreciate you bringing this to our attention. We will take the necessary actions to ensure that these issues are properly addressed."
The former prostitute said she solicited her customers online and chose that specific hotel because she said it's safer.
"It's definitely a higher class clientele, better money, more safety really, you know. It’s not in a high crime area," she told the I-TEAM.
We went to the Extended Stay America and the hotel's general manager wouldn't talk to the I-TEAM about the allegations made by guests and about the arrest of a woman during a prostitution sting operation at the hotel.
After requesting a response from executives of the hotel chain, a public relations firm emailed the following statement back:
"Thank you for reaching out to Extended Stay America in regards to your media request for comment, however, we unfortunately have no comment to provide at this time."
We also went to the Brentwood neighborhood just north of downtown, where police records show people have called to report possible prostitution.
"I don't stop and talk to them," said Andrea Smith who lives near Pearl Street.
While we were in that area, we saw women hiding in and around abandoned houses there.
"I don't know the reason why they are selling their bodies," said Smith.
The former Jacksonville prostitute we spoke with said drugs led her to offer sex in exchange for money.
"It was around the age of 32. I was in a car accident and at the time, my lawyer had suggested I go to a doctor. I went to the doctor and started getting prescribed oxycodone," she said.
She said she kept losing jobs and started having withdrawals.
"I had a friend that said, 'Hey, you can do this (prostitution) and make money quick, really quick.' That was really what it was. Quick money to get drugs," she said.
"What percentage would you say are women prostituting are doing it for drugs?" we asked.
"I'd say probably 98 percent," she answered.
Prostitution is everywhere
For years, News4Jax has reported on prostitution and criminal activity along Philips Highway, and police have conducted multiple stings to crack down on the crime. But the former prostitute we spoke with said it's not just Philips Highway -- no area is immune.
"You think areas like Jacksonville Beach?" we asked.
"Oh yeah," she said. "Ponte Vedra, Fleming Island, oh yeah."
"You know this because you were in it?" we asked.
"Yes," she said.
"How prevalent is (prostitution) in Jacksonville?" we asked.
"Very! You'd be amazed," she said.
"Why do you say that with so much confidence?" we asked.
"Because I know how bad the drug problem is," she answered.
This former prostitute has a message for any woman who is selling her body.
"You are loved. You are definitely worth more than that life," she said. "I feel I'm happy today. I love myself, I know I'm worth it, I have high standards for myself now."
How to report prostitution
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said in a written response to the I-TEAM regarding this investigation, that the JSO Vice Unit conducts covert operations in response to prostitution activity and citizen complaints.
If you are concerned about prostitution in your neighborhood, there are three ways for you to report it to JSO:
1. JSO Narcotics & Vice: 630-2163
2. JSO Non-emergency line: 630-0500
3. Crime Stoppers: 866-845-TIPS
If you are having an issue in your community, not only should you call police, you should also contact the council member who represents your district.
The sheriff's office declined an on-camera interview with the I-TEAM about prostitution and the agency's efforts to combat it, but did provide answers in writing to several questions: