Los Angeles, 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

Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States, with a population of nearly four million residents in the city proper. It is the largest city and the government seat of Los Angeles County. Prostitution and sex trafficking are chronic and widespread problems in the area, with activities centered for decades within the city, specifically along the Western and Figueroa Corridors, and Lankershim Boulevard in Sun Valley, and throughout the city facilitated by websites and information technology. A wide range of crimes occurring within the context of prostitution transactions have been documented, including rape, assault, drug trafficking, weapons offenses, kidnapping, production of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, commonly referred to in legal codes as “child pornography), and child endangerment.  An example of the latter occurred in 2003, when a married couple was arrested for running a prostitution ring and selling narcotics out of the they shared with their two small children, aged six months and six years. The pair were arrested after undercover investigators identified them as the operators of South Bay Models, an escort service advertised on the Internet. The offenders were arrested for felony pimping, pandering, possession of narcotics and child endangerment. A client list was found with over 1,000 sex buyers.  In February, 2013, two suspects sought in connection with a child pornography case tied to the San Fernando Valley were indicted on federal charges of conspiracy to produce “child pornography,” production of child pornography, conspiracy to engage in child sex trafficking, and sex trafficking of children. The indictments identified on defendant allegedly involved in the production of a widely circulated series of CSAM images taken about 11 years previously. The pictures show an adult man, “John Doe,” and a woman, the defendant, sexually molesting a girl whom investigators confirmed was between 11 and 13 at the time the images were taken. Between 2001 and 2003, the indictment alleged that the defendant “worked as a prostitute,” provided the child victim with crack cocaine and, on multiple occasions, directed the child to engage in sexual acts with male “clients.” In one instance, the defendant brought the victim to “John Doe’s” residence, where both sexually abused the victim and photographed the assault. In September, 2022, an arraignment was held for an Echo Park man who prosecutors said agreed to plead guilty to federal charges of using a social media messaging app to distribute “child pornography” (CSAM) and attempt to sex-traffic two children under the age of 14. Prosecutors said the man used the Kik Messenger app in an attempt to traffic two children, aged 7 and 9.

Several serial killers have targeted prostituted people, in addition to numerous individual homicides of prostituted people (as well as sex buyers and sex traffickers/pimps) have occurred. Among the more serious issues associated to the commercial sex market in the county are sex trafficking of adults and minors and illicit massage businesses (IMBs). For example, in 1971, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in coordination with the Los Angeles Police Department, the California Chiropractor Association, and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, conducted the largest prostitution operation as of April 1971. The eight-month long investigation consisted of 22 undercover raids at massage parlors and related sites suspected of prostitution and sex trafficking activity and resulted in the arrest of 61 individuals. Twenty-seven of the arrested offenders were men who were charged with a variety of felony charges including investigation of deriving financial support from the earnings of a prostituted person, inducing a female to commit acts of prostitution, conspiracy to commit prostitution, and bribery of a law enforcement officer. Sixteen of the arrested men were charged with conspiracy to commit pimping, pandering, and bribery. Seven of the owner-operators were charged with bribery. Police also seized over $10,000 of bribe money over the course of the investigation. Although during the undercover operations no male sex buyers were arrested, the identities of hundreds of male sex buyers were made known to investigators after seizing ‘credit applications’ used by the massage parlors to protect against undercover police officers and build a list of sex buyers. Arrested offenders were booked at the Los Angeles County Jail and held on bonds ranging from $500 to $31,000.

To combat the issue, county and local agencies have adopted aggressive and comprehensive approaches to identify and apprehend sex buyers. According to the officers who were interviewed from the Los Angeles Police Department as a result of our National Assessment in 2012, the LAPD was among the first forces in the U.S. to implement the use of street-level reverse stings, beginning in 1973. Currently, city officers conduct reverse stings weekly, resulting in approximately 2,0000 arrests of sex buyers per year. Operations typically involve the use of an undercover female officer, who poses as a decoy. Although the majority of reverse stings have targeted street solicitation, the LAPD has also set up surveillance in massage parlors and replaced massage technicians with undercover female officers when businesses were suspected of illegal activities.

Once arrested, sex buyers are frequently issued SOAP (or Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) orders, barring them from entering areas of the city associated with prostitution activity. Additionally, in 2018, the city banned right turns in downtown areas known for prostitution with the intention of discouraging sex buyers from attempting to solicit sex from prostituted people within residential neighborhoods. Between 2003 and 2007, the city also instituted an ordinance giving police the right to seize and impound vehicles used for solicitation. Despite its successes (some 168 sex buyer cars were seized in 2007 alone), the tactic was discontinued after the California Supreme Court ruled it incompatible with preexisting state legislation.

In 2008, the LAPD collaborated with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office to create a “john school” to rehabilitate and educate arrested sex buyers. The initiative, named the “Prostitution Diversion Program,” was modeled after the First Offender Prosecution Program (FOPP) in San Francisco. Sex buyers could volunteer for the program if they had no prior arrests for solicitation, drugs, or violent crime, and were willing to pay a $600 fee and submit to a HIV test. Once enrolled, the men must complete the 8-hour course that includes a lecture on STD transmission and presentations from police officers, people who had previously been exploited in prostitution, and representatives from Sex Addicts Anonymous.  In exchange, graduates of the program may have their solicitation charges waived within the year if they are compliant and avoid rearrest.  As of March, 2023, the program is still operating, and had been continuously for 15 years.  More than 3,700 participants had successfully completed the program, and less than 10 are known to have been rearrested for soliciting prostitution.

In 2015, the Los Angeles City Council approved a debated “John Letters” motion wherein individuals suspected of soliciting commercial sex would receive “John Letters.” In addition, the motion allowed LAPD officers to record license plate numbers in order to send letters to the registered owners’ homes.

Many neighborhoods with the large city of Los Angeles have spearheaded anti-prostitution efforts, including those that focus specifically on sex buyers in some way. A LAPD community liaison officer said that the West Adams community in particular has taken action. The intersection at 29th Street and Western Avenue had been known as one of the worst “tracks” for street-level deals, and one West Adams resident responded by starting a Twitter account called Stop Prostitution. Another neighborhood group is the Van Nuys Homeowners Association, which in September 2013 was forming the grassroots “Group Against Street Prostitution” (GASP). Among the community’s complaints are the inability to sleep at night because prostituted people shout at cars to flag down potential sex buyers in addition to arguing with sex traffickers/pimps and potential sex buyers; residents find used condoms thrown on their lawns; and cars in front of residents’ houses are seen with prostituted women and trafficked persons engaging in commercial sex with sex buyers.

Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that occurred within the city. For example, in 2003, a Woodland Hills athletic director at El Camino Real High School was arrested after attempting to solicit sex from an undercover female LAPD officer. The former athletic director was immediately reassigned to a position in which he would not have contact with children following his arrest. His case was later dismissed despite being arrested for the same offense of soliciting prostitution in 1993. In April of 2015, the executive search firm Korn/Ferry International fired one of its high-level executives (Executive Chairman for the Americas) for allegedly using his company email address repeatedly “to solicit and arrange for meetings with at least 20 different call girls and escorts.’’ In addition, Korn/Ferry alleged that the man used his company email “to receive and distribute photographs of nude and seminude women.” In March of 2016, the Dean of the Keck School of Medicine (University of Southern California) and a renowned eye surgeon resigned in the aftermath of public allegations of patronizing prostituted women. He was initially placed on administrative leave before his resignation.

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey, Interviews, Site Visit (2012)

National Assessment II Survey, Interviews, Site Visit (2022)

Reverse Stings:  

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

John School:

SOAP Orders:

Auto Seizure:

Loss of Employment:

Neighborhood Action:

Dear John Letters:

Background on Local Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation, Related CSAM:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Prostitution Related Violence, CSAM:

State California
Type City
Population 3849000
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