Merced County is located in the northern San Joaquin Valley section of the Central Valley area of California. It lies about halfway between the Fresno and San Jose metropolitan areas, and Interstate 5 runs through the county. The population is over 265,000, and the county seat is the city of Merced. Both prostitution and child sex trafficking are identified as problems within the county. For example, in 2015 detectives charged a woman with pandering a girl under the age of 18. At least three victims were identified, aged 14, 15, and 17. The juvenile sex trafficking victims were offered services such as counseling and support from the Merced County Human Services Agency. In April 2017, coordinators at the Valley Crisis Center, which serves Merced County, said that between July of 2016 and the end of March in 2017 they had had more than 30 sex trafficking cases, and one labor trafficking case in the area. In February, 2021 a Winton woman was arrested by Merced County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly sex trafficking a teenage girl throughout California. She was booked into Merced County Jail on suspicion of sex trafficking of a minor for commercial sex, sex trafficking of a minor by force or fear, pimping, pandering, pandering person under 16, pimping a victim under 16 years and causing/inducing/persuading a minor to a sex act, according to jail records.
In an effort to reduce the consumer-level demand for commercial sex, the Merced Police Department has conducted reverse stings. For example, during an operation conducted in 2010, 12 johns were arrested within a five-hour period. More recently, the MPD conducted two “dual” sting operations (targeting both johns and prostituted women) in September and October 2013. As a response to the violence centered around commercial sex, Merced police conducted the joint sting/reverse sting operations in 2013, and made “at least 34 arrests and citations” during three undercover sting operations aimed at taking down suspected brothels and other areas known for prostitution. At least 24 of those arrested were “johns.” All offenders’ names were released to the public. Allegations against those arrested or cited in the case ranged from solicitation and assault to sex trafficking of a minor and attempted murder. The arrests were the product of a five-month investigation.
In May 2014, a reverse sting was conducted in the 1400 BLK of West 16th Street, in the city of Merced. Undercover female officers arrested two males who attempted to solicit them for sex. The operation was conducted with the assistance of the Merced County Child Protection Agency and Merced County Mental Health. The individuals were either booked into the Merced County Sheriff’s Corrections or cited out. Their identities were released to the public.
In February of 2017, officers of the Merced Police Department’s DART (Disruptive Area Response Team) began an undercover internet sting operation targeting traffickers and any people actively using the internet to engage in sexual activities. From February to April of 2017conducted operations targeting people willing to arrange to have sexual relations with juveniles. Officers posted non-sexual advertisements and when contacted by the suspects, would engage in online conversations where the suspects would make arrangements to engage in sex acts after being told that the person they were arranging to have sex with were juveniles. The results of the operation are as follows:
- On February 20th 2017, officers of the DART unit arrested a 48 year old man at a local fast food restaurant after he arranged to meet a juvenile for sex acts in exchange for narcotics. He was booked at the Merced County Jail for 288.4(b) PC Contact with a minor with intent to commit a sex offense, and later served a 180 day sentence.
- On March 1st 2017, officers of the DART Unit arrested a 23 year old man at a residence in Merced when he arrived at the location to meet a juvenile, provide narcotics and to perform sex acts with the juvenile. He was booked at the Merced County Main Jail for 288.3(a) PC. He was released after posting $5000 bond.
- On March 13th 2017, officers of the DART Unit arrested a 54 year old man at a residence in Merced after he arrived at the location to engage in sex acts with a juvenile. He was booked at the Merced County Main Jail for 288.3(a) PC.
- On March 21st 2017, officers of the DART Unit arrested a 28 year old man at a residence in Merced after he arrived to meet a juvenile for sex acts and for sending pornographic material to a minor. He was booked at the Merced County Main Jail for 288.3(a) PC and 288.2(a)(2) PC.
- On March 22nd, 2017 officers of the DART Unit arrested a 56 year old man at a residence in Merced after he arrived to perform sex acts with a juvenile. He was booked the Merced County Main Jail for 288.3(a) PC. He was released after posting $5000 bond.
In January 2018, a web-based reverse sting was conducted by the Merced Police Department and collaborating agencies, as part of a 3-day-long human trafficking operation. For the first two days, officers contacted online prostitution advertisements and arranged to purchase commercial sex workers in an attempt to determine if the workers were victims of Human Trafficking. In total, six women appeared at agreed upon locations and were interviewed by officers. Each was was provided counseling and other services in an attempt to offer support to leave the commercial sex industry. During those interviews, it was determined that two men were Pimping, Pandering, and Supervising Prostitutes that were detained during the operations, and both were arrested and booked for the charges. During the last day of the operation, officers focused on arresting people who engage in purchasing sex acts through online advertisements. The Merced Police Department DART Team with the assistance of the MPD GVSU (Gang Violence Suppression Unit) and the Fresno Office of the FBI, posted decoy ads online and arrested seven men when they arrived at the agreed upon location. The identities of the men were released to the public, and all were given citations for the violations and released.
- Merced County Sheriff’s Office
- Merced Police Department
- DART Team
- MPD GVSU (Gang Violence Suppression Unit)
- Fresno Office of the FBI
Street-Level Reverse Stings:
- “Merced Prostitution Sting Nets Twelve Suspects”, FOX/KMPH-TV 26, August 11 2008.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets 12 Arrests”, Merced Sun-Star, August 11 2008.
- “Dozens Busted in Merced Prostitution Sting”, CBS/KGPE-TV 47, October 10 2013.
- “Merced Prostitution Crackdown Reveals Other Problems”, ABC/KFSN-TV 30, October 10 2013.
- “Police Nab 34 in Undercover Prostitution Stings in Merced”, Merced Sun-Star, October 10 2013.
- “34 Named in Merced Prostitution Sting”, Crime Voice, October 14 2013.
- “Merced Prostitution Sting Nets 7 Arrests,” Merced Sun-Star, May 12 2014.
- https://www.facebook.com/mcntvnews/posts (2014)
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Shaming:
- http://allmercednews.com/2017/04/19/nine-arrested-by-mpd-for-human-trafficking-and-other-charges/ (2017)
- http://kmph.com/news/local/several-arrested-in-human-trafficking-operation-in-merced-county (2018)
- http://www.mercedsunstar.com/news/local/crime/article197763209.html (2018)
- http://www.mercedsunstar.com/news/local/crime (2018)
- http://www.mercedgwnews.com/ten-arrested-in-merced-prostitution-sting/ (2018)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Ex-School Bus Driver Makes Plea Deal in Sex Case”, Merced Sun-Star, December 20 2012.
- “Merced PD Shut Down Suspected Prostitution Ring”, ABC/KFSN-TV 30, March 3 2013.
- “Prostitution Ring: Man Arrested in Hotel, Found with 15-Year-Old”, FOX/KMPH-TV 26, March 4 2013.
- “Police Nab 34 in Undercover Prostitution Stings in Merced,” Merced Sun-Star, October 10 2013.
- “Two Convicted in Merced Sex Trafficking Case,” Merced Sun-Star, January 28 2015.
- “Two Arrested in Merced Sex Trafficking Case,” Merced Sun-Star, February 11 2015.
- http://abc30.com/10-men-arrested-for-child-sex-crimes-in-merced-1-facing-charges-for-trafficking-14-year-old (2017)
- https://www.mercedsunstar.com/news/local/crime/article249344190.html (2021)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Pastor Raps Merced Vice”, San Jose News, March 5 1928.
- “Plan Vote on Dispute at Merced”, Berkeley Daily Gazette, June 7 1937.
- “Woman Testifies She Worked as Lodi Prostitute”, Lodi News-Sentinel, December 13 1950.
- “May 10 in Merced History”, Merced Sun-Star, May 10 2003.
- “January 4 in Merced History”, Merced Sun-Star, January 3, 2004.
- “Today in Local History”, Merced Sun-Star, December 11 2004.
- “Today in Local History”, Merced Sun-Star, January 6 2005.
- “Pair Suspected of Prostitution Arrested” , Merced Sun-Star, August 19 2005.
- “Crime: Officers on Foot Patrol Have Busy Night”, Merced Sun-Star, February 9 2006.
- “Prostitution Sting Nabs 6”, Merced Sun-Star, May 23 2006.
- “Police: Prostitution Ring Found”, Merced Sun-Star, March 4 2013.
- “Task Force Forming to Deal with Hot Spots”, Merced Sun-Star, March 7 2013.
- http://www.sacbee.com/news/article2598638.html (2014)
- “Merced Looks to Stamp out Massage Parlor Prostitution; Proposed Ordinance Would Make State Its Massage Regulator,” Merced Sun-Star, December 20 2015.
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Solicitation Goes Awry for Man”, Merced Sun-Star, December 15 2006.
- “Man Convicted for Shooting Woman at Motel Gets 39 Years-to-Life”, Merced Sun-Star, February 8 2010.
- “Man Robbed After Paying for Sex, Calls Police for Help”, Merced Sun-Star, November 14 2011.
- “Man Seeing Prostitute Attacked at Motel, Merced Police Say”, Merced Sun-Star, January 22 2013.
- “Two Unrelated Shooting Reported in Merced”, Merced Sun-Star, September 16 2013.