Bakersfield, CA

Tactics Used

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

Bakersfield is a city of over 377,000 residents, located along the Interstate-5 corridor, north of Los Angeles in Kern County, CA. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified as posing longstanding problems for the community. Service providers estimated in 2014 that there were approximately 250 individuals involved in commercial sex in the city, and that approximately half were trafficking victims. In 2018, it was reported that there were 74 active massage parlors and 16 others with pending permits operating in the city, according to the Bakersfield Police Department. There were about 75 more parlors operating within unincorporated Kern County land, more than half of which public health officials suspected were engaging in illicit activities including prostitution and sex trafficking.

Magdalene Hope, a non-profit that provides services for survivors of human trafficking in Bakersfield, said in 2020 that the Covid-19 pandemic had not slowed sex trafficking in the area at all. The organization estimated that about 1,000 different women were for sale in Bakersfield in any given month. In January 2021, a joint sex trafficking investigation by Bakersfield Police and federal law enforcement led to the arrest of three sex traffickers at a Desert Star Motel in Bakersfield that the Kern County District Attorney described as “in essence a modern-day brothel.”

Residents have complained to police about prostitution taking place right outside their homes, as well as finding used condoms and drug paraphernalia. In response to such problems, police have included demand-reduction tactics in their attempts to reduce prostitution activity. In a reverse sting conducted in May 2012, the state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) provided a female investigator to serve as a decoy stationed at a hotel located near three ABC licensed establishments in Bakersfield. Three decoys were provided by the Bakersfield Police Department, and officers on the support team were provided by the Kern County Sheriff’s Department (Joint Vice Task Force).

Similarly, a November 2012 operation resulted in 22 arrests for activity related to prostitution. The Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff’s Department Joint Vice Task Force conducted a street-level reverse sting in an area known to have a high rate of prostitution activity. Twenty-one suspects were arrested for solicitation of prostitution, including one suspect who was also arrested for possession of a loaded firearm. Two juveniles were also arrested for solicitation of prostitution, conspiracy, and possession of marijuana, and an adult was arrested for solicitation of prostitution, conspiracy, possession of marijuana, and child endangerment.  One man was also arrested in the area for an active felony warrant.

Bakersfield publicly releases information about arrested sex buyers in unusual detail. After a 2013 operation targeting both buyers and sellers, the Bakersfield Police Department released a file (Bakersfield Arrestees from Prostitution Stings) with arrestees’ first and last names, dates of birth, age, occupation, and details about the time and location of the offense for which they were charged. In March 2018, another reverse sting produced the arrest of 13 sex buyers. In August 2018, Bakersfield police arrested eight people in an undercover internet prostitution sting at a Bakersfield hotel. Six people were arrested and booked on misdemeanor prostitution charges. One of those six also faces methamphetamine and resisting arrest charges. Two others were arrested and booked on misdemeanor loitering for the purpose of prostitution charges. The reverse sting was part of the department’s Alcohol Beverage Control Grant Assistance Program funded by California Alcohol Beverage Control. In November 2018, BPD detectives from the organized crime/vice detail conducted a “John Sting” near 200 Union Avenue. Sixteen individuals were cited and released for charged related to soliciting prostitution and/or loitering for the purpose of soliciting prostitution during the operation.

In February 2021, Bakersfield police arrested 10 people in a sex buyer sting where undercover officers posed as prostituted persons on Union Avenue. Eight men were arrested for solicitation of prostitution and two others were arrested for loitering with intent to commit prostitution.

Proposed John School – 2018

In March 2018, city officials were actively planning a type of “john school” program to educate men arrested for buying sex.  Police said they’re done trying to arrest their way out of the area’s prostitution problem as they discussed a program to show first-time offenders the consequences of their crime. The program is called Prostitution Abatement Restitution (PAR) and will be focused on teaching people that prostitution isn’t a victimless crime. It appears to be modeled, at least somewhat, on the PAR program developed in Fresno, CA in the late 1990s, which included expanding the city’s use of frequent street-level reverse stings, and establishing a john school to educate and rehabilitate commercial sex buyers.

John School – “Retrain the Night” – 2020

The “Retrain the Night” program is designed to educate arrested sex buyers about the social, physical, and legal consequences of engaging in the act of or the solicitation of prostitution. Upon successful completion of the program, participants who have been charged with a prostitution-related offense are able to have those charges dismissed.

The class may be ordered as a Community Court ordered sanction, in addition to paying court fees and fines for soliciting prostitution. This class consists of a seven‐hour educational program in which various facilitators and survivors of prostitution, as well as community members  provide a series of educational components to the participants. The curriculum features the following 5 primary content areas:

  • Sex Socialization Purpose: Participants will gain understanding of the socialization of sex process and its impact on relationships; identify and understand how socialization affects behavior; and gain insight into personal treatment of victims.
  • Sexual Messages Purpose: Participants will gain perspective about distorted views of sexual relationships; obtain  insight into their evaluation of their sexually deviant behavior; and recognize healthy alternatives to the sexual treatment of others.
  • Sexual Health Education and Prevention Purpose: Participants will gain knowledge to decrease the spread of HIV and other sexually  transmitted infections between victims, buyers of sex, and their partners.
  • Personal Empowerment Purpose: Participants will be encouraged to make healthier decisions about their lives; to  differentiate between healthy and unhealthy interpersonal and sexual relationships.
  • Discussion Purpose: Participants will have an opportunity to address any area of uncertainty; dispel myths  about prostitution; and learn how prostitution impacts victims.

The curriculum topics are:

  1. Prostitution Law and Street Facts (Presented by Law Enforcement Professional) Focusing on the legal consequences of subsequent offenses and addressing male sex buyers’ vulnerability to being robbed or assaulted while involved in prostitution. Understanding the history, current laws, and the impact of prostitution on women and  communities.
  2. Dynamics of Pimping, Recruiting, and Trafficking (Presented by Law Enforcement  Professional) Featuring discussions of how pimps and traffickers recruit, control, and exploit women and  girls for profit, and the links between local street prostitution and larger systems of human  trafficking.
  3. Effect of Prostitution on Victims and the Community (Presented by Survivor) Focusing on numerous negative consequences for women serving as prostitutes, such as  vulnerability to rape and assault, health problems, drug addiction, and various forms of  exploitation. Understanding the role of emotions and defenses in engaging and rationalizing  prostitution.
  4. Health Education (Presented by Health Care Professional) Describing the elevated risk of HIV and STD infection  associated with prostitution, and stressing that many STDs are asymptomatic and/or difficult to detect and have long term negative impacts on health. Among the topics  covered are discussion of local outbreaks and symptoms. Brochures about sexually transmitted infections are provided.
  5. Deviant Sexual Behavior (Presented by Sexual Offender Treatment Professional) Focusing on how involvement in commercial sex may be driven by sexual addiction, and where help for this condition can be sought. Understanding the reasons for seeking prostitutes; introduction to change strategies, including self‐awareness, thought‐behavior  sequence, and reducing resistance to change. The effects of prior abuse and neglect, and its residual effects and connections to adult psychopathological behavior. Understanding relationships with self and others, patterns and intimacy, emotional and relational needs, and motivations for seeking prostitutes. Understanding the need for intimacy; normalizing non‐sexual contact; differentiating between sex and intimacy, normal versus compulsive behaviors.
  6. Questions and Answers Session/Panel Discussion Processing all prior session information, and putting a viable plan together to prevent future sexually deviant behaviors, and offering continued individual and/or group psychotherapy.

For more information, click here: Retrain the Night: John School Curriculum Overview

Key Partners

  • Bakersfield Police Department
  • Kern County Sheriff’s Department
  • California Alcohol Beverage Control

Key Sources

Reverse Stings and Shaming:

John School:

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 377917
Location
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