San Luis Obispo, CA

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Shaming
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Letters
Cameras
Web stings
License suspension

San Luis Obispo is a city of approximately 43,000 residents, located roughly midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco in San Luis Obispo County, California. News reports of prostitution in the city date as far back as the early 20th century, and more recently, sex trafficking has been documented. There have been cases where San Luis Obispo police have arrested people robbing sex buyers, and prostituted women have also been assaulted and murdered in the city and surrounding areas of the county.

To address the issue, law enforcement agencies have conducted reverse stings since at least 2003, and routinely release the names of the johns they arrest. In particular, officers from San Luis Obispo Police Department and San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office frequently target johns who solicit sex online.

In September 2013, for example, SLOPD officers collaborated with their counterparts in nearby Arroyo Grande and Pismo Beach on a three-day web sting targeting both sex buyers and prostituted women. Officers posted and responded to advertisements soliciting sex on MyRedbook.com, and arranged to meet individuals who replied at nearby hotels.

When asked about the impetus for and timing of the operation, SLOPD representatives stated that they had hoped “to discourage prostitutes and their clients from hooking up in local cities after two incidents of alleged violent rape, assault and robbery against prostitutes occurred in Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo hotels earlier” in 2013.  One SLOPD officer commented that “we do this because there are men out there raping and beating prostitutes. And it’s a health issue. Some of the men we’ve caught are having sex with prostitutes, then going home to their wives.”

In October 2014, the SLOPD again partnered with Arroyo Grande and Pismo Beach officers to conduct a second web-based sting targeting johns and prostituted women as part of a multi-agency effort to “suppress human trafficking for sex and acts of prostitution in local communities.” Thirty-seven adults were arrested as a result, including several sex buyers. All of the offenders’ names and mugshots were publicized by local media outlets. Following the investigation, the SLOPD distributed a press release that noted the following impetus for conducting the operation:

“Prostitution may be seen by some as a “victimless crime”. In recent times our communities have experienced the use of underage females by “pimps” to engage customers in acts of sex in order to make money to continue in a lifestyle of criminal behavior. Often these underage females are held against their will and are coerced into services through force, fear and retaliation if they do not perform. Often acts of prostitution are accompanied by the use and sales of narcotics, acts of violence to include serious assaults and robbery and the trafficking of stolen property. Additionally, those engaged in these encounters are exposed to transmittable diseases creating an additional public health and safety concern.”

Key Sources

State California
Type City
Population 43516
Location
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