Fresno County, CA

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Fresno County is located in central California, and houses more than one million residents. Its population center and government seat is the city of Fresno. Street prostitution has posed significant problems for the city, and police reports have noted complaints from local business owners and residents for 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. Among the more serious issues associated with the local commercial sex market are child sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse material (CSAM). For example, in January, 2023, the Clovis Police Department announced the arrest of six men during a human trafficking operation. Clovis Police officials said that their Special Enforcement Team (SET), assisted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Fresno County’s Multi-Agency Gang Enforcement Consortium (MAGEC), posed as girls on social media. SET detectives arrested the men who thought they were coming to the hotel to meet a girl they were targeting for them to exploit through sex trafficking. All suspects were booked into Fresno County Jail for felony charges related to human trafficking. Their identities were publicly disclosed. During the arrests, police say a loaded firearm and cocaine were located on one suspect.

In the late 1990s, a team was assembled to study the crimes and problems arising form the sex trade, and to identify local 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. The city has also implemented SOAP orders, defining geographic exclusion zones wherein sex buyers may face further penalties if they are found in designated areas known for prostitution activity.

In mid-2011, the Fresno Police Department launched an aggressive identity disclosure 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 sex 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 prostituted women. Nineteen men were detained for soliciting an undercover officer for sex acts in exchange for money and fifteen sex buyers were arrested.

In June 2021, a web-based reverse sting conducted as a joint operation involving the Fresno Police Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations made 10 felony arrests over multiple days, including at least seven of adults who allegedly arranged to meet for sex with sexually exploited/sex trafficked minors and young women. As part of the operation an undercover officer went online posing as an underage girl and started to chat with adults who made contact. The identities of seven men were released, including their felony charges of arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd and lascivious behavior.  Five of the men were arrested on a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct prostitution. One of the men also faced a felony charge of arranging a meeting with a minor with the intent to engage in sexual conduct, felony possession of a controlled substance with firearm, felony possession of firearm by felon or narcotic drug user and felony loaded firearm in public and misdemeanor narcotics possession. The five were arrested at a house in north Fresno in a steady run starting in the late afternoon and ending near midnight.

Key Partners

  • Fresno Police Department
  • Fresno City Attorney’s Office
  • Fresno County District Attorney’s Office
  • Fresno County Public Defender’s Office
  • California Highway Patrol
  • Standing Against Global Exploitation (SAGE, San Francisco)
  • Central California AIDS Foundation/Central Valley AIDS Team
  • The Marjorie Mason Center

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey and Interview (2012)

John School:

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Illicit Massage Parlor-Based Reverse Sting:

Arrest of Sex Buyer; Identity Disclosure

Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State California
Type County
Population 1014000
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