Anaheim, CA

Tactics Used

Buyer Arrests
Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Anaheim is a city of about 350,000 residents situated south of Los Angeles in Orange County, California. Prostitution and sex trafficking are well-known problems in Anaheim and in surrounding communities. The city has developed a reputation as a place men can buy sex, and the city has been identified by police and social services as a stop on smaller circuits that include Garden Grove, Santa Ana, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Some areas of the city are well-known for prominent street prostitution, and the activity generates numerous complaints to police. Cases of targeted homicides of women selling sex have also been documented in Anaheim.

On several occasions, neighborhood groups have met with police specifically to discuss how best to combat prostitution. Among the strategies pursued have been those addressing demand. The Anaheim Police Department has conducted several reverse stings, the first known instance occurring in 1979. Some of the operations have been large-scale joint reverse stings (targeting male buyers) coupled with stings (targeting women selling sex) that span multiple days. One such effort in 1993 resulted in over 60 arrests in a five-day period.

While the APD has invested some effort to address demand over the years (particularly in the 1990s), the vast majority of their resources have been devoted to arresting prostituted women. Anaheim arrested nearly the same number of men and women for prostitution offenses in the 1990s, but since 2000 the balance has since shifted toward arresting mostly women. In 2010, more than 80 percent of prostitution arrests by the Anaheim Police Department were of women and girls.

Police and others in the community acknowledged that arresting prostituted women accomplished little, aside from showing community members who complained about prostitution they were doing “something.” They also acknowledged that targeting demand was a more promising strategy. However, they said they conduct fewer reverse stings because the operations are more labor-intensive, and they have fewer female officers that can serve as effective decoys. Police departments often exchange undercover investigators since the problems of becoming known as police officers to a local community of criminals is common to many offenses, not just prostitution (e.g., drug trafficking, auto theft and burglary rings), so a lack of female decoys is an easily surmountable challenge.

In September 2014, the Anaheim City Council announced it would begin posting the names of convicted sex buyers online. Although sex buyers arrested in greater Orange County were already subject to shaming through the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the identities of sex buyers arrested in Anaheim were not disclosed as the city is the only community in the county that prosecutes its own criminal misdemeanors (i.e., solicitors are not processed through the OCDA). As such, this announcement marked the first time sex buyers convicted in the city would be subject to shaming. According to media reports, “Anaheim officials said they do not plan to list the names of convicted prostitutes and pimps [on the website], citing a theory of supply and demand: if the shaming ordinance prevents johns from soliciting sex acts, then prostitutes will take their business elsewhere.”

In February 2020, the results from the statewide “Operation Reclaim and Rebuild” were announced. The week-long operation was led by the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force and 70 participating federal, state and local law enforcement agencies (including the Antioch Police Department) and task forces from across California. In addition to rescuing and serving victims of sexual slavery and human trafficking and arresting then prosecuting their captors, Operation Reclaim and Rebuild also sought to disrupt the demand for vulnerable victims by targeting their customers. Investigators focused enforcement operations wherever the trafficking of human beings took place and included street-level and internet-based operations. The operation deployed specially trained cyber detectives who posed as vulnerable teenagers online. The detectives interacted with suspects on social media, traffickers and customers who sought to exploit and sexually abuse children. Operation Reclaim and Rebuild resulted in 266 male sex buyers arrested for the charge of Solicitation, as well as the recovery of 76 adult and 11 minor victims and the arrest of 27 suspected traffickers. In the press release announcing these results, the head of the Task Force said, “To the Johns: Purchasing commercial sex is illegal and buying sex adds to the exploitation of those involved.” Downloadable Material: Talking Points and Slides

Key Partners

  • Anaheim Police Department
  • Anaheim City Council
  • West Anaheim Neighborhood Development Committee

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Web-Based Stings:


Neighborhood Action:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State California
Type City
Population 349964
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