San Jose, 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 Jose is the county seat of Santa Clara County, which is located at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay area. It is the third-largest city in California, with a population of just under one million. Sex trafficking and prostitution have been identified by law enforcement and residents as substantial problems in the city and surrounding areas of the county. Cases of homicides and disappearances of prostituted and trafficked persons have been documented in the city. In the 2000s and 2010s, residents complained to the police about a growing trend of prostituted persons and sex buyers seeking their services disrupting areas of the city and spawning other crimes. Some have suggested that the rise in street gang activity in San Jose, particularly in South San Jose, was directly responsible for the rise in commercial sex.

Some cases of the local sex trade have involved child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, often called “child pornography” in state criminal laws). For example, in September 2022, a violent child sex trafficker was sentenced to more than 38 years in Federal prison, and his female co-conspirator was sentenced to 10 years, on multiple charges for their roles in a Bay Area conspiracy to exploit minors for child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) and sex trafficking. According to the defendant’s guilty pleas and the evidence submitted at trial, the key defendant was the leader, primary facilitator, enforcer, and main financial beneficiary of the operation. He admitted that over a 16-month period, he and three other defendants established and operated an illegal prostitution enterprise that exploited numerous women and children. They operated a commercial sex venture and recruited, enticed, harbored, and transported several minor females to work in prostitution and as “exotic dancers.” They rented rooms at various hotels and motels in San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale for sex trafficking activities and told minor females not to tell anyone that they were minors. The youngest of the victims were 15 years old at the time. The trafficker subjected both the child victims and his female co-defendants to physical and sexual abuse. They were isolated from their families and support systems; deprived of food and sleep; and given cocaine, alcohol, and other substances to keep them compliant. They were deliberately supplied methamphetamine to keep them awake so they could meet nightly quotas. Defendants posted online prostitution advertisements repeatedly over many months using pictures of the children posed naked. After one victim escaped and returned home, the traffickers sought to shame her by distributing videos of the victim being sexually assaulted by a “customer” on social media sites. The government’s sentencing memorandum described how three of the traffickers were heard on the video clips mocking the girl and laughing at her as she was raped. The prosecution was the result of an investigation by the FBI, the San Jose Police Department, and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Santa Clara County Human Trafficking Task Force. 

Consumer-level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. Police have been conducting periodic reverse stings since 1986, mostly at street level and more recently, using the Internet. Neighborhood groups have also mobilized to combat prostitution and sex trafficking broadly, and the demand for commercial sex specifically. For example, the Santa Maria Urban Ministry organized a march in 2012, to protest prostitution and sex trafficking in the city, and the Washington Guadalupe Neighborhood Association and local YMCA supports efforts to combat demand as a means of attacking local problems associated with commercial sex in downtown San Jose areas, particularly near South First Street.

In September 2019, the SJPD launched the “Report John Program” designed to reduce human trafficking and prostitution by reducing consumer-level demand. A SJPD press release about the program states that community members are invited to participate, by reporting sex buyers they suspect are soliciting prostituted persons. Reporting is facilitated by a simple website usable on phones, tablets, or desktop computers, that crowdsources feedback from the community. Residents can upload a photo, and provide vehicle and other identifying information on a potential sex buyer. The Department’s Human Trafficking Unit then evaluates the information and determines if further investigation is warranted. If appropriate, a Public Safety Announcement (PSA) letter is sent to the registered owner’s address, alerting them that their vehicle was seen in an area known for high levels of prostitution. This letter also serves to educate the registered owner about the dangers of prostitution and related illicit activities.

The county has also operated a “john school” education program for sex buyers. YWCA Golden Gate Silicon Valley, based in San Jose, in cooperation with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, developed and runs their First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP). FOPP is an intervention for men who solicit, agree to engage in or engage in any act of prostitution. The FOPP is a one-day, 5-hour long program that includes educational seminars and presentations by survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, law enforcement officials, public health workers, residents of highly impacted neighborhoods, domestic violence counselors, and human trafficking experts.

Key Partners

  • San Jose Police Department
  • Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office
  • Milpitas Police Department
  • FBI
  • Santa Maria Urban Ministry
  • Washington Guadalupe Neighborhood Association
  • YMCA

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Identity Disclosure:

Neighborhood Action:

Public Education and Letters Sent to Potential Sex Buyers: Report John Program

John School:

Local Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation, Related CSAM:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State California
Type City
Population 983489
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