Marin 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

Marin County is a county of approximately 262,000 in northern California, across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco. Its county seat is San Rafael. Other cities in the county that have worked to combat demand for commercial sex include Corte Madera, Mill Valley, and Novato. Prostitution and sex trafficking, including child sex trafficking, have been documented in the county. There have also been local cases of assault and murder of women in prostitution, as well as drug and child endangerment charges.

Consumer-level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies in their strategy for prevention and response. For example, in June 2014, deputies from the Marin County Sheriff’s Office and officers from several county police departments conducted a web-based reverse sting in Novato, San Rafael, Corte Madera, and Mill Valley as part of the FBI’s “Operation Cross Country.” Twenty-two sex buyers were arrested as a result; their identities were not released to the public. Across the Bay Area, authorities reported the arrest of 13 pimps and 54 sex buyers, as well as the recovery of six juvenile sex trafficking victims.

In October 2016, the Marin County Sheriff’s Office collaborated with numerous partner agencies in the region to conduct operations in support of “Operation Cross Country X,” an international effort focused on ending child sex trafficking. The operation took place from October 11 to 15, 2016, and spanned six counties in the Bay Area (San Francisco, San Mateo, Marin, Alameda, Santa Clara, and Sonoma). In addition to recovering six juvenile trafficking victims and 14 pimps and traffickers, the operation resulted in the arrest or citation of 79 adult male sex buyers, and “cyber patrol” contact with 63 adult men. Cyber patrols involve potential sex buyers being contacted by law enforcement and advised of the harm caused by engaging in prostitution. The FBI San Francisco Division coordinated the California effort for Operation Cross Country X, and 28 additional agencies participated: Alameda County DA’s Office, Probation, and Sheriff’s Office; Alameda Police Department; Belmont Police Department; Campbell Police Department; Central Marin Police Authority; Concord Police Department; Department of State; Hayward Police Department; Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Marin County Sheriff’s Office; Milpitas Police Department; Morgan Hill Police Department; Oakland Police Department; Piedmont Police Department; Redwood City Police Department; San Francisco DA’s Office and Police Department; San Jose Police Department; San Mateo County Juvenile Probation; San Mateo Police Department; San Rafael Police Department; Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and Juvenile Probation; Santa Rosa County DA’s Office and Sheriff’s Office; and Santa Rosa Police Department.

In October 2017, law enforcement agencies across the U.S. collaborated on Operation Cross Country, an annual effort to recover victims of sex trafficking and apprehend those who exploit them. In California, the FBI partnered with 22 agencies including the San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco Police Departments; the Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Marin County Sheriff’s Offices; and the Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Alameda County District Attorney’s Offices. In addition to arresting pimps and recovering victims, authorities in the Bay Area also arrested or cited 12 male sex buyers, and arrested five men for solicitation of a minor for prostitution.

In May 2022, three people accused of soliciting minors for sexual acts were arrested in a six-hour sting operation conducted at a hotel in San Rafael. Police placed ads on targeted websites. Those who responded and appeared at the hotel to complete the transactions were arrested separately on suspicion of soliciting a minor for lewd purposes, a felony. Police said they came to the hotel after agreeing to exchange money for sexual acts with a 16-year-old. The California Highway Patrol; Fairfax, Novato, and Sausalito police; the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center; the Marin County Sheriff’s Office; the county probation department; and the District Attorney’s Office assisted in the operation. The agencies are members of the group Marin Coalition to End Human Trafficking. One of the men arrested in the operation was identified as a youth swim coach at Marin Academy, and he was fired shortly after his arrest despite prosecutors declining to file criminal charges.

In September 2022, police arrested several men in Novato who believed they had arranged to meet minors for paid sexual abuse. The arrests are part of a larger push by police in Marin County to combat the sex trafficking of minors. Officers from San Rafael and Novato police departments, and state investigators with the Northern California Regional Information Center, set up a sting operation at a Novato hotel aimed at finding and helping trafficking victims, arresting those trying to pay minors for sexual abuse, and arresting those who were pimping or pandering. One Sonoma resident responded to an online ad on a site “commonly used for prostitution,” unaware he was actually chatting with an undercover police officer. The website in question, which police did not specify, does not specifically deal in underage sex trafficking, but juveniles had previously posted ads on it, according to police. The suspect initiated the conversation indicating that he was interested in exchanging money for sex acts, even when the undercover officers made it clear she was under 17. The man went to Novato for the specific purpose to engage in a sexual abuse act with a juvenile, but instead was arrested at a motel on Alameda del Prado and booked into the Marin County Jail on suspicion of arranging to meet a minor for sex. He was held on a $50,000 bail. Detectives working on the joint operation also arrested three other men, cited a fourth, offered resources to a prostituted adult woman, and were searching for a man they say drove her to her “job.” Detectives arrested three on suspicion of soliciting a minor after they allegedly agreed to pay for sex with a juvenile and came to the hotel. Police also cited an unidentified 51-year-old Novato man on suspicion of soliciting prostitution after he allegedly came to the hotel to pay for sexual acts with an adult. A man who drove the prostituted woman to the meeting “fled the scene in a reckless manner when confronted by investigators.”

In addition to conducting reverse sting operations, the Marin County Sheriff’s Office has also participated in operations using IT-based tactics to deter sex buyers. In August 2017, a joint operation was conducted in San Rafael by the San Rafael Police Department (SRPD), Central Marin Police Authority, and Marin County Sheriff’s Office to target men who pay for sex. Undercover officers posed as prostituted persons in an area of the city well-known for prostitution, and five men were cited with solicitation of prostitution. Their names and identities were released to the public. Law enforcement simultaneously posted decoy advertisements in the “Women Seeking Men” section of an escort website. The SRPD partnered with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office Human Exploitation and Trafficking (HEAT) Watch Program to generate automated replies to text messages sent to the decoy ads. When sex buyers called or texted the advertisement, they received an instantaneous message back warning them their phone number was now recorded with the SRPD and that human trafficking only thrived because of the demand. The text also contained a link that provided more information about sex trafficking. The decoy ads were contacted by 365 unique buyers in a 10-hour period, and 150 buyers contacted multiple ads.

Key Partners

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

IT-Based Tactics:

Employment Loss, Identity Disclosure:

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 County
Population 262321
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