San Francisco, 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

San Francisco is the leading population center of Northern California and the Bay Area, with a population of approximately 815,000.  Prostitution and sex trafficking in the city are well documented, long-standing problems locally, and have been linked to cases of serial killers targeting individuals selling sex, numerous additional murders, and assaults on sex buyers as well as prostituted and trafficked persons. For example, in 1983, a man was convicted of seven murders of prostituted women in San Francisco and the Bay Area, and was suspected to have committed other unsolved homicides. Other homicides and assaults include a series of cases in 1995, in which two prostituted people were murdered, and two others were critically injured. One of the women who survived was in a coma for seven weeks after the assault that resulted in the fracturing of her skull, jaw, and two eye sockets, in addition to the shattering of her teeth. The other survivor was a 15-year-old girl who was raped and then repeatedly stabbed in the eyes to prevent identification of her assailants, then shot in the back of the head. In addition, there has been at least one homicide of a sex trafficker/pimp, by the parents of a girl he had sex trafficked in Compton and San Francisco.

Reverse Stings and John Schools:

The city of San Francisco is one of the pioneers in addressing the demand for commercial sex. The first known reverse sting operation in the city occurred in 1975, and by the late 1980s the San Francisco Police Department was routinely arresting hundreds of sex buyers each year. In 1995, the city launched the First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP), a type of program that later became known by the generic term, “john school.” The FOPP is widely regarded as the first john school, although it was not (e.g., programs were active in Grand Rapids, MI and St. Paul, MN in the 1980s). However, it did serve as the model or starting point for most of the 70+ programs that followed in the U.S. (plus over a dozen in Canada, approximately 20 in the United Kingdom, and  the nationwide program operating in over 30 sites throughout the Republic of Korea). The FOPP’s managing partner was the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, which led a partnership with the SFPD and a non-profit organization (SAGE), that was formalized by a memorandum of understanding. The FOPP also had key collaborators that contributed to the program for years, including a neighborhood organization, Save our Streets (SOS), and the San Francisco Department of Public Health. In addition, key classroom contributions were made by survivors of commercial sex, most of whom were current or former clients of the SAGE program. The FOPP was the subject of an evaluation sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, which found the FOPP to be effective in reducing recidivism. The report from that evaluation, along with resources from the FOPP, are provided below.

From 1995 to 2014, the non-profit Standing Against Global Exploitation, or SAGE, led the FOPP, but the program was discontinued and SAGE was disbanded by the fall of 2014. In 2015, Community Works West (CWW) began developing a john school to replace the previous program operated in the city for 20 years by SAGE. In 2018, the CWW website contained a description of their second generation john school in San Francisco, described as follows:

The First Offender Prostitution Program (the “John’s School”) is a court diversion program that seeks to reduce recidivism among first time buyers of prostitution. Eligible “johns” participate in an eight-hour Saturday school (similar to traffic school) focused on building knowledge regarding the consequences, both personal and societal, of buying sexual services. Community Works is piloting a new men-helping men approach, in which the RSVP  Team has adapted the manalive curriculum to the First Offender Prostitution Program.  This was the first John’s School in the nation and has been replicated in more than 50 jurisdictions nationwide. Contact: Alan Wilson (

A news report in July 2019 about the second generation john school in San Francisco noted that local police were supplying the program with a robust stream of arrested sex buyers.

In 2020, a de facto decriminalization of prostitution occurred in San Francisco in the form of the District Attorney’s Office declining to prosecute prostitution offenses, as well as many other misdemeanors.  By 2022, the policy had clearly failed, with prostitution, sex trafficking, and other crimes rates rapidly rising, and the prosecutor was removed from office. In early 2023, there were reports that the SFPD is once again arresting sex buyers and pimps, and prosecutors were once again processing prostitution solicitation cases and directing the buyers to complete a john school program. For example, in February, 2023 the new District Attorney Brooke Jenkins wrote:

“Since taking office, I have been in direct communication with neighbors, including visiting Capp Street at night, to better understand their concerns and determine how my office can be helpful in addressing the prostitution and human trafficking concerns, while working to support victims. We continue to be proactive in helping law enforcement to craft enforcement operations to deter and disrupt this activity while holding traffickers accountable. 

Currently, citations for solicitation are referred to our neighborhood courts for adjudication.  Johns referred to neighborhood court are expected to abide by the agreements they make with community members including going to John school and pledging to not repeat their behavior.  14 Johns have been referred to neighborhood court.  We also do everything we can to help rescue victims from traffickers.  We are prepared to prosecute any pimping or human tracking case and traffickers where there is sufficient evidence for us to move forward. “

In 2020, San Francisco began sending arrested or cited sex buyers to a generic online version of a John School—an educational course for those cited for solicitation of prostituted persons. The online school the city is using is produced by American Integrity Courses (AIC), which hosts a 10-hour “John School” as part of its Human Trafficking Awareness & Prevention Program. The AIC John School covers the legal, social and health ramifications of purchasing sex in an effort to deter individuals from solicitation in the future. The DA’s Office said that the AIC John School has been available as a virtual online course to first-time offenders in the city since the pandemic began (March, 2020), and that so far, all of the “students” have been men. Solicitation suspects in San Francisco are now directed to neighborhood courts, where convicted offenders may then be required to enroll in John School for a $50 fee. As of February, 2023, it was reported that only 14 sex buyers from San Francisco had taken the AIC John School course.

Key Partners

  • San Francisco District Attorney’s Office
  • San Francisco Police Department
  • Standing Against Global Exploitation (SAGE) (1995-2014)
  • Community Works West (2015)
  • San Francisco Department of Public Health
  • Save Our Streets (SOS)
  • Survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey, Interviews (2008, 2012, 2022)

FOPP Program Documentation

FOPP Program Evaluation 

News Reports on FOPP John School:

Subsequent John Schools in San Francisco:

Reverse Stings:

Neighborhood Action:

Sex Buyer Arrests:

Auto Seizure:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation Cases in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State California
Type City
Population 815201
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