San Mateo County, 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 Mateo County is a county in Northwest California, covering the majority of the San Francisco Peninsula, with a population of approximately 767,000 residents. The government seat is Redwood City and the county is included in the San FranciscoOaklandHayward Metropolitan Statistical Area in addition to being a part of the San Francisco Bay Area. Prostitution has historically been an issue in the county with initial reports dating back to the era of the gold rush. Prostitution and sex trafficking have presented serious problems for decades within the county, including the murder of prostituted women, illicit massage businesses (IMBs), and child sex trafficking. For example, in 2013, four individuals were arrested in connection to a large sex trafficking ring operating in Rancho Cordova and throughout the counties of  Sacramento and San Mateo. The California Department of Justice, the FBI, and local authorities raided four houses in San Mateo and Sacramento Counties along with an apartment unit across from the South San Francisco BART station on McLellan Drive. Large boxes of condoms were found in the trash near the apartment. Agents rescued at least 15 women who were being sex trafficked by the offenders. Al Serrato of the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, said that this activity is not tolerated in the county and urged people to pay attention and report suspicious any activity,

“This is modern day slavery, this kind of thing should not be allowed and we certainly intend to vigorously pursue it. Men coming in and out of a place. Women who perhaps appear to be from foreign countries that don’t seem to be free to move around or never coming out of the house. Things that might just strike them at a gut level as not quite right.”

In 2014, a San Francisco federal grand jury indicted 10 people who allegedly were involved in a sex trafficking operation in which the offenders lured adult females, primarily from Asian countries to the Northern District of California, where they were sex trafficked at various brothels in apartments across the Bay Area. All 10 defendants were charged with Conspiracy to Conduct a Racketeering Enterprise for operating 40 brothels in the greater San Francisco Bay Area from at least August 2002 through July 2014. The cities included San Mateo, the site of 14 of the brothels, Redwood City, Belmont, San Bruno, Colma, Foster City, South San Francisco, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, and Pinole. “The Enterprise” rented the apartments used as brothels through nominee lessees for limited periods of time, and then opened other brothels, often with overlapping rental periods. “The Enterprise” used social networking websites such as,, and to post advertisements for prostitution services, which included contact information and photographs of nude and partially nude women assuming provocative and suggestive poses. “The Enterprise’s” telephone operators answered the calls for telephone numbers posted on the website advertisements for prostitution services, coordinated the meeting place between the sex trafficking victims and sex buyers and directed the sex buyers to a particular brothel. In 2016, “The Enterprise’s” leader pleaded guilty to all 32 counts charged in the indictment. In 2017, he was sentenced to 46 months in prison and was ordered to pay a $5,269,698 forfeiture money judgment for his role. In 2015, the a man was arrested on human trafficking charges for the first time in San Mateo County history. The investigation began after a 16-year-old teenage girl had escaped from the Red Roof Inn in Burlingame, CA, boarded a shuttle to San Francisco International Airport, and found an officer. In 2017, the sex trafficker was found guilty of four felonies: sex trafficking of a minor, pandering of a minor, human trafficking of a minor for sex acts, and witness dissuasion. He was sentenced to 34 years – life in prison.

In effort to reduce instances of commercial sex in the county, law enforcement has been known to conduct both street-level and web-based reverse sting operations, targeting sex buyers who are responsible for driving the demand for commercial sex in the area. The Redwood City Police Department has conducted street-level reverse stings since at least April 1993, using decoy female sheriff’s deputies. In October 1995, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the RCPD and city officials had begun formally distributing the names of arrested sex buyers to the local press as part of a shaming campaign to deter sex buyers. It is unclear if this policy remains in effect. At times, the local and county law enforcement have collaborated to conducted reverse stings. For example, in December 2004, the San Jose Mercury News announced that East Palo Alto Police Department officers and San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department deputies had arrested seven individuals during a prostitution sting in the Bell Street Park area. During the sting, “male and female plainclothes officers were approached and solicited for sex,” according to a EPAPD representative interviewed. Four men and three women were arrested as a result. It is unclear if their identities were disclosed in press at that time. In October of 2016, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office collaborated with numerous partner agencies in the region to conduct operations in support of “Operation Cross Country X,” an international effort focused on combatting child sex trafficking. The operation took place over the course of five days and spanned across six counties in the Bay Area (San Francisco, San Mateo, Marin, Alameda, Santa Clara, and Sonoma). In addition to recovering six juvenile sex trafficking victims and arresting 14 sex traffickers, the operation resulted in the arrest or citation of 79 adult male sex buyers, and “cyber patrol” contact with 63 adult men. Cyber patrols involve potential sex buyers being contacted by law enforcement and advised of the harm caused by engaging in prostitution. FBI San Francisco Division coordinated the California effort for Operation Cross Country X, and 28 additional agencies participated.

Sex buyers have also been apprehended by officials as a result of prostitution investigations, brothel raids, and residential reports to local law enforcement. For example, in 1981, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office conducted a month long investigation into a local theatre suspected of prostitution activity that resulted 22 arrests, 17 of which were male sex buyers cited with the charge of engaging in prostitution. The theatre’s owner was also arrested on charges of pimping, pandering, and running a house of prostitution, he posted bail the morning following the raid. Two days after the raid, investigators executed a search warrant at the theatre owner’s home and arrested him again on charges of pimping, pandering, and running the theatre as a house of prostitution. His bail was set at $20,000. In addition, the theatre’s manager was arrested for owning a billy club and two prostituted women were arrested for engaging in prostitution.

Additional demand reduction tactics have also been documented in the county such as, public education and neighborhood action. In 2019, the county’s human trafficking task force highlighted its efforts public education, community engagement, and outreach services. These efforts have included law enforcement training, education for hotels and motels, and human trafficking initiative meetings. Asa result, the task force has reported an increase in community knowledge of human trafficking, and collaboration between a wide variety of organizations and individuals to work against the demand for prostitution and sex trafficking in San Mateo County.

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, IT-Based Tactics:

Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:

Public Education, Neighborhood Action:

Sex Buyer Arrest:

Background on Local Prostitution:

Background on Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Documented Human Trafficking and Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State California
Type County
Population 767423
Comments are closed.