Los Angeles County, 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

Los Angeles County, officially known as the County of Los Angeles, and sometimes abbreviated as L.A. County, is the most populous county in the United States and in the state of California, with a population of more than ten million residents. The city of Los Angeles, CA is the county seat, the county’s largest city, and the second most populous city in the United States. Prostitution and sex trafficking are pervasive issues within the county, especially in and around the city of Los Angeles, CA. 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 is the sex trafficking of adults and minors. For example, in the Spring of 2021 alone, three sex trafficking operations were conducted in Los Angeles County. Two operations were conducted in January—Human Trafficking Awareness Month—and were led by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The first investigation, “Operation Lost Angles,” resulted in the arrest of one sex trafficker and the rescue of 33 child sex trafficking victims, eight of whom were being sexually exploited at the time of their recovery. The second investigation, “Operation Reclaim and Rebuild,” a statewide investigation involving over 100  agencies, resulted in 450 arrests statewide and the rescue of 39 victims of sex trafficking, including 13 juveniles. 145 of the sex trafficking arrests were made in Los Angeles County, in addition to the rescue of 14 sex trafficking victims, 12 by the LAPD and two by the Pomona Police Department. The third investigation, conducted in April of 2021, resulted in the arrest of 11 sex traffickers and the rescue of three child sex trafficking victims.

Additionally, the county has faced issues regarding illicit massage businesses (IMBs) for decades. 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 prostitute, 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 and police seized over $10,000 in cash throughout the course of the investigation. Although during the undercover operations no sex buyers were arrested, investigators discovered and seized “credit applications” containing the identities of hundreds of sex buyers that frequently visited the IMBs. These applications were used by the IMBs to protect sex buyers from police and simultaneously build a list of individuals who visited the establishments. Arrested offenders were booked at the Los Angeles County Jail and held on bonds ranging from $500 to $31,000.

To combat the issue, 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 Los Angeles Police Department 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. For example, in 2012, an operation in which female officers posed as decoy masseuses was conducted, and resulted in the arrest of 20 male sex buyers. In addition to the city of Los Angeles, numerous other cities within Los Angeles County have been known to conduct street-level reverse stings either in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, or on their own. The Hollywood Community Police Station and the Long Beach Police Department were also among the first known sites to have conducted street-level reverse sting operations, both occurring in 1973. Undercover female officers from the Hollywood Community Police Station arrested 73 male sex buyers and undercover female officers from the Long Beach Police Department arrested two male sex buyers. Once arrested, offenders are frequently ordered community service hours in addition to being fined.

Web-based reverse stings are also frequently conducted in the county. For example, in 2003, the Long Beach Police Department, collaborated with an Internet watchdog group, Perverted Justice, and the NBC newsmagazine “Dateline,” to conduct a web-based reverse sting operation targeting individuals seeking to sexually exploit minors in exchange for money. The operation resulted in the arrest of 32 men booked for attempted online solicitation of a minor under the age of 14. Upon arriving to the hotel, offenders were confronted by Dateline’s camera crew, a reporter, and then interviewed by police. The episode was set to air later in the year of 2003. The arrested offenders were transported to the Long Beach Jail and held on $100,000 bail. During some web-based stings, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department collaborates with local law enforcement agencies. For example, in July of 2018, a web-based reverse sting was conducted by the LACSD and the Compton Sheriff’s Station that resulted in the arrest of 20 male sex buyers after they allegedly attempted to solicit sex acts from undercover deputies.

In addition to reverse stings, local and county law enforcement have also apprehended sex buyers through other investigations, citizen complaints, and reports to police. For example, in 2003, a former Lennox Sheriff’s Station deputy was relieved of duty after he allegedly sexually assaulted a prostituted woman in his patrol car while on duty. According to reports, the investigation was initiated after a connection between an anonymous call to Lennox police in 2001 regarding an officer engaging in commercial sex while on duty, in addition to the prostituted woman claiming the same Lennox deputy had attempted to solicit sex from her in 2002. In October 2014, a Palmdale sex trafficker was sentenced to 27 years in prison for sex trafficking minors in the greater Los Angeles County area. The investigation was initiated after the, “victim was able to escape earlier [in 2014] by jumping out of a moving vehicle while [the offender] brandished a handgun at her.” In November of 2017, an anonymous tip led Claremont police to arrest a 53-year-old man who was allegedly soliciting sex from a minor online. According to reports, the offender was arrested and booked on suspicion of having sex with a minor, oral copulation with a minor and contacting a minor for sex, according to a Claremont police news release. He was released on $50,000 bail. Officers discovered that the offender had arranged to meet the 16-year-old girl again, and upon his arrival he was arrested by police.

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. For example, in 2018, the city of Los Angeles banned right turns in downtown areas known for prostitution. This was intended to discourage sex buyers from attempting to solicit sex from prostituted people within residential neighborhoods. SOAP (Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) Orders have also been issued in numerous other cities within the county such as in Inglewood, Hawthorne, and Pomona. For example, in 1979, a group of 60 Inglewood residents, known as the Inglewood Task Force Against Prostitution, led by an Inglewood city councilman, marched in protest against the increase of prostitution activity in their neighborhoods. As a result of residential protests, in the same year, the Inglewood Police Department began posting “no tolerance” signs to deter sex buyers from frequenting areas known for prostitution. According to reports, the signs did help in reducing prostitution activity in these areas. The Hawthorne Police Department frequently issues SOAP Orders to arrested sex buyers following their arrest in reverse sting operations, prohibiting arrested sex buyers from returning to the areas known for high rates of prostitution and related crimes. The Pomona Police Department has issued also reported issuing Stay-Away-Orders to arrested sex buyers after they are arrested in reverse sting operations by police.

Between 2003 and 2007, the city of Los Angeles 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. Additional cities within the county have reported using auto seizures as a demand reduction tactic. For example, the Hawthorne Police Department reported seizing the cars of arrested sex buyers during a street-level reverse sting conducted in 1978. The Inglewood Police Department conducted a street-level reverse sting along the Century Boulevard Corridor, that resulted in the arrest of 15 male sex buyers for soliciting prostitution and the impounding of 14 vehicles.

Local and county law enforcement have also been known to release the identities of arrested sex buyers. For example, in 2005, the Inglewood Police Department released the identities and addresses of arrested sex buyers in a press release detailing the results of a street-level reverse sting. The Long Beach Police Department has also been known to release the identities of arrested sex buyers. Cameras have been used a form of surveillance by multiples cities within the county. Such as in Compton, Cudahy, and Lynwood.

John School:

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 may sign up for the program if they have no prior arrests for solicitation, drugs, or violent crime, and are 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, former sex sellers, 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. Between 2008 and 2014, 1,400 men had completed the program– only four had been subsequently rearrested. As of 2021, about 3,700 participants have successfully completed the program.

Neighborhood Action:

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, the Van Nuys Homeowners Association, formed the grassroots “Group Against Street Prostitution” (GASP) in September 2013. 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.

Public Education:

Public education has also been reported as a tactic to reduce the demand for commercial sex within cities in Los Angeles County. For example, in the city of Glendale, the Glendale Police Department deployed an educational campaign raising awareness regarding the harms and prevalence of prostitution in the city in efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex through public education. Similarly, in 2015, federal agents hosted a training seminar in the city of Burbank teaching club owners, live dancers, amongst other individuals in the adult entertainment industry how to spot and report sex traffickers and sex buyers. The organization was called Club Organizers Against Sex Trafficking. More than 100 club operators, and a handful of dancers, attended the training seminar in Burbank. As of 2016, more than 10,000 people have attended such gatherings nationwide.

Loss of Employment:

Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that occurred within the county. For example, in 1973, two chiropractors in Los Angeles County, were charged with pandering, and as a result their licenses were suspended after violating the state’s prostitution laws in massage parlors. A third chiropractor accused of violating the state’s prostitution laws in massage parlors, pleaded guilty to pandering and was placed on probation. According to chief deputy of the California Department of Consumer Affairs at the time, the arrests were made in part of a statewide investigation into chiropractors suspected of prostitution-related activity. As a result of their arrests, two former chiropractors were sentenced to jail and had their licenses permanently revoked, while the third offender was ordered one year of probation and a 60-day license suspension. In 2019, a former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy with the Sheriff’s West Hollywood Station, pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of obstructing or delaying law enforcement and two misdemeanor counts of solicitation of prostitution. According to reports, the former officer had admitted to engaging in commercial sex at two locations  in which officers frequently conducted investigations at. He was on duty at the time he engaged in commercial sex acts. Further, the former officer deterred law enforcement from investigating locations he frequented. According to officers, in at least one instance, “[The former deputy] told a massage parlor manager there may be law enforcement officers near the business and advised her she might want to close for the evening.” In a statement from the then-sheriff’s department spokesman, Nicole Nishida, the former officer left the sheriff’s department in 2017. She declined to comment on whether he left employment voluntarily or it was terminated by the sheriff’s department. Additional reports described the officer as “retired.” According to the then-D.A.’s Office spokesman Greg Risling, “He [the former deputy] was immediately sentenced to 150 hours of community service, placed on summary probation for three years and (ordered) to stay away from massage parlors and spas.” The investigation was initiated after the LACSD became aware of allegations against the former officer.

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey, Interviews, Site Visit (2012)

Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Buyer Arrests:

SOAP Orders:

Auto Seizure:

Shaming:

Cameras:

John School:

Neighborhood Action:

Public Education:

Loss of Employment:

Los Angeles Police Department Arrest Data:

Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

State California
Type County
Population 10004000
Location
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