Fresno, CA

Tactics Used

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

Fresno is a city of approximately 509,000 residents, located in Fresno County in central California. Street prostitution has posed significant problems for the city, and police reports have noted complaints from local business owners and residents for several decades. Multiple cases of sex trafficking (of both adults and minors), and targeted assaults and homicides of individuals engaged in prostitution, have also been documented in the city.

In the late 1990s, a team was assembled to study the problem and identify strategies to address it. As a result, the Prostitution Abatement and Rehabilitation Program was developed. In addition to expanding the city’s use of frequent street-level reverse stings, it established a john school to educate and rehabilitate commercial sex buyers. In recent years, the city has implemented the use of SOAP orders by defining geographic exclusion zones wherein johns may face further penalties if they are found in areas known for prostitution activity.

In mid-2011, the Fresno Police Department launched an aggressive shaming campaign in an effort to further deter arrested sex buyers. The initiative, dubbed “Operation Reveal,” has created a web page devoted to disseminating the mug shots, names, dates of birth, and residences of men arrested in reverse stings.

Following a reverse sting in May 2014, a FPD Vice Unit Sergeant said they target demand for commercial sex as the driver of human trafficking, with women and girls as the usual victims. “These girls, these young women, wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t somebody out there willing to pay the money,” he commented.

In January 2019, a brothel-based reverse sting was conducted. The undercover operation was carried out by Fresno police’s Vice Unit and FBI agents. It followed an investigation prompted by an anonymous tip made in 2018. Law enforcement personnel served a search warrant, closed the parlor, and collected evidence for a criminal case against the establishment. During the closure, police conducted a “reverse” operation – reopening the business with undercover officers posing as workers involved in the sex trade.  Nineteen men were detained for soliciting an undercover officer for sex acts in exchange for money. Fifteen sex buyers were arrested.

Key Sources

State California
Type City
Population 510365
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