San Antonio, TX

Tactics Used

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

San Antonio is a large city in southern Texas’ Bexar County, and with a population of over 1.5 million residents. San Antonio is the largest city in southern Texas, the second largest city in Texas, and the 7th largest city in the United States. Due to the city’s location, prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified by community leaders and law enforcement agencies as substantial problems in the city, and have been for decades. San Antonio, TX is one of the destination locations in what is known as the Texas Triangle. The Texas Triangle is located in the heart of Texas, with the metro areas of HoustonDallasFort Worth, and San Antonio acting as the Triangle’s vertices. The three destination cities are connected through Interstate 35, Interstate 45, and Interstate 10. These highways are popular routes for travel as individuals can easily move between the highly populated cities for either business or leisure. The city’s position at the intersection of Interstate 35 and Interstate 10 significantly contributes to the amount of prostitution and sex trafficking activity within the city and surrounding areas. Among the more serious crimes associated with the commercial sex market is the international sex trafficking of adults of and children. For example, in 2007, a federal grand jury in San Antonio, charged five individuals with charges related child sex trafficking. According to reports, the five offenders had smuggled multiple underage girls from Nuevo Leon, MX, to San Antonio, TX under the impression that they would be marrying wealthy men in the United States. Upon their arrival to San Antonio, the girls were sex trafficked by the offenders. All five sex traffickers pleaded guilty charges of child sex trafficking amongst additional offenses. One of the offenders was formerly a registered nurse, but as a result of his arrest, surrendered his nursing license. The case was investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in addition to local law enforcement.

Among their efforts to address prostitution and related crimes, law enforcement has incorporated tactics that focus on underlying demand for commercial sex, such as reverse stings. In addition, officials frequently release the identities of arrested sex buyers. For example, in the first known street-level reverse sting in 1991, six male sex buyers were arrested and their identities were released by police to local media outlets. The men were charged with soliciting prostitution and bonds were set at $400. Officials have also been known to impound the vehicles of arrested sex buyers. For example, as a result of a street-level reverse sting conducted in 2012, called Operation Polar Bexar, 62 male sex buyers were arrested and 47 vehicles were impounded in under nine hours. Participating agencies included the San Antonio Police Department, Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. In May of 2018, six men were arrested on misdemeanor charges of prostitution in addition to having their cars impounded in a reverse prostitution sting where undercover SAPD Vice Unit officers approached the men in their vehicles. The SAPD Vice Unit stated that this specific operation focused on arresting buyers as opposed to prostituted persons themselves, as a form of tackling the demand for commercial sex in San Antonio. Photos and names of the men arrested were also posted online. Cameras have also been used by police to document reverse sting operations. For example, during a street-level reverse sting on the city’s west side in 2014, two male sex buyers were arrested after a police surveillance cameras caught them attempting to solicit sex from undercover female officers.

Local law enforcement have been known to conduct street-level and web-based reverse stings simultaneously. For example, in January of 2013, a street-level and web-based reverse sting operation called, “Operation Blue Ice,” resulted in the arrest of 46 suspected male sex buyers on the city’s South Side. Amongst the arrested offenders were a local middle school teacher, a Bexar County Sheriff’s Office employee, and an on-duty EMT who sought to sexually exploit a 15-year-old in exchange for money. The operation consisted of over 100 law enforcement officials and was led by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.

In 2021, a web-based reverse sting was led by the Kerr County Sheriff’s Office, with assistance from the Kerrville Police, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, and the Texas Department of Public Safety eight male sex buyers from San Antonio. Six sex buyers were charged with soliciting prostitution and two sex buyers were charged with online solicitation of a minor. As of September 1st, 2021, soliciting prostitution is a state jail felony in Texas.

Not all arrests of sex buyers are the product of sting operations; some are instead the result of investigation of alleged offenses against real victims. For example, in 1996, a residential complaint to the SAPD, resulted in the discovering of a statewide, online, male prostitution operation. Upon further investigation, police were able to seize the and arrest a list of sex buyers as well as sex traffickers involved in the operation. In November 2021, a man was arrested for paying to sexually abuse two young runaways on the North Side of San Antonio.  In March, 2022 a man was arrested for approaching a 16 year old boy and offering to pay $50 to sexually assault him.

Additional demand reduction tactics such as SOAP (Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) Orders and neighborhood action have been document in the city. For example, in 1991, a neighborhood campaign against sex buying was initiated by the group, “Mahncke Park and West Fort Alliance Citizen Patrol.” Residents took photos of sex buyers in cars, recorded license plate numbers, and sent the photos and information to local police. The group was also reported to have sent letters to the wives of the men soliciting sex in their neighborhood. In a statement from a then-SAPD vice sergeant, residents were focused on reducing demand by targeting sex buyers in the city,

What they’re doing has been effective in other areas. It’s harassment. ‘If we take away the customers, the business will die’ is the philosophy behind it.”

Disclosure of Sex Buyer Identities:

Identity disclosure is also a consequence for buying sex in the city. For example, in 2015, the San Antonio Police Department Vice Unit began conducting “virtual ride-alongs” where officers filmed undercover prostitution stings and posted the results to the SAPD Facebook page. Videos and images depicted arrestees in handcuffs. In their first virtual ride-along, SAPD arrested 12 men over a period of two nights. Police believed that posting the identities of arrested offenders would deter future buyers from purchasing commercial sex. In 2019, Fox San Antonio reported on how SAPD Vice Unit conducts undercover reverse prostitution stings after being able to observe on for themselves. Five men were arrested on charges of prostitution after approaching an undercover officer and offering them money for sex. SAPD Vice Unit officers stated that,

“Most times the guys that we do pick up maybe aren’t looking for that, right they’re not looking for the girls, but they see the girls, they think about it and then they decide to make the bad decision.”

Once the men offered a fee in exchange for a sex act, undercover officers were able to make the arrests. The SAPD Vice Unit reported arresting over 945 buyers in 2019 alone. Although demand remains high, officers reported this number as a decrease in comparison to that of the 2018 buyer arrests.

In November 2015, the SAPD announced that it would begin posting the names and photos of individuals arrested for attempting to purchase commercial sex acts to the department’s Facebook page. Five offenders were included in a “first post,” displayed the week of November 22nd after SAPD Vice Unit arrested 16 suspected buyers in West Side San Antonio in an undercover prostitution sting. This specific operation consisted of female officers going undercover as prostituted women to apprehend sex buyers in the act of purchasing. Officers referred to this as a sex buyer reversal operation. The ‘first post’ consisted of photos of the men, their identities, along with  the following warning to other would-be sex buyers:

“Prostitution is not a victimless crime. Why risk embarrassment, possible job loss, arrests, STD’s and the victimization of women. Nobody wins.”

In February of 2018, the San Antonio Vice Unit conducted prostitution street reversal operation over the course of nearly two weeks which resulted in the arrest of 23 men in a period of only 11 days between February 8th and February 19th. All men were arrested and charged with prostitution. Photos of the men along with their names were posted on the SAPD Facebook page with the caption,

“It doesn’t have to be election time, sweeps time, or round up time. Whether it’s on the street or through the Internet we are always on the streets working to deter people from breaking the law.”

John School:

In January 2015, a john school program began operating in San Antonio. The program was delivered by a faith-based organization, Embassy of Hope in partnership with the San Antonio Police Department, and Bexar County District Attorney’s Office. The program was delivered as an 8-hour class or as multiple counseling sessions. The program is no longer operating as of 2021.

Employment Loss:

Loss of employment and identity disclosure are also consequences of buying sex in the city. For example, in 2014 a former San Antonio Firefighter was arrested after attempting to solicit sex online from an undercover policewoman. The former firefighter was one of four sex buyers that had communicated with, and arrived to meet the undercover policewoman. All four men were arrested upon their arrival to meet the undercover officer. As a result of his arrest, the sex buyer was immediately suspended from his position. In early 2021, an additional San Antonio firefighter was arrested on charges of purchasing prostitution. As a result of his arrest, the sex buyer was initially suspended indefinitely without pay, but the punishment was reduced to a 30-day suspension in May of 2021. On September 17th, 2021, a former Trinity University Assistant Police Chief was arrested in a prostitution sting conducted by the San Antonio Police Department. The sex buyer, in addition to six other men were arrested on the felony charge of soliciting prostitution. Texas was the first state to make sex buying a felony. According to reports, the former officer was placed on administrative leave following his arrest as it directly violated the Trinity University’s Police Code of Conduct. His immediate suspension was also confirmed in a statement by the Trinity University Public Relations Manager Carla Sierra,

“Trinity University confirms that [offender’s name] has been an employee of the University for 18 years. This morning, after learning of his arrest and in accordance with University policies and practices, Assistant Chief [last name] has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation of this matter.”

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Arrest:

Identity Disclosure:

SOAP Orders:

Neighborhood Action:

John School:

Sex Buyer Arrest Led to Loss of Employment, Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

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 Texas
Type City
Population 1529000
Location
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