San Rafael, 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 Rafael is a city of approximately 61,000 residents, located in the North Bay Area of Marin County, California. Like nearby Richmond and Vallejo, the city has a longstanding and well-documented problem with street prostitution, often involving minors. Since 1995, local law enforcement and members of the media have reported at least 13 cases of domestic minor sex trafficking in the city, affecting victims as young as 13 years of age. For example, in May 2021, a San Rafael man was arraigned on charges he ran commercial sex operations from two residences.  He was charged with human trafficking, pandering, pimping and two other counts related to prostitution, according to the complaint by the Marin County District Attorney’s Office. He was arrested after an investigation by the San Rafael Police Department that was prompted after receiving tips from the public that the residences — one on Valencia Avenue near San Rafael High School, the other on Hammondale Court near Lincoln Avenue — were being used for prostitution and potentially for  human trafficking.

By contrast, the San Rafael Police Department (SRPD) has targeted both those who are sexually exploited and sex buyers since at least the late 1970s. In January 1978, SRPD officers conducted one of its earliest street-level reverse stings, resulting in the arrest of 26 male sex buyers. When asked about the operation, the SRPD alluded to their dual strategy (as well as the larger supply/demand relationship), stating that they chose to target sex buyers in an effort “to discourage female prostitutes from flagrantly soliciting customers in the streets.” Since that time, SRPD has conducted frequent, small to mid-scale street reversals using undercover female officers as decoys. Street-level operations frequently target the Canal Area. Arrestees’ mugshots and other identifying information are often released to the public.

In addition, the SRPD has participated in several nationwide law enforcement operations to rescue sexually exploited children and capture pimps, traffickers, and individuals attempting to purchase sex from minors. For example, in June 2012, officers collaborated with the FBI, neighboring law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on Operation Cross Country VI, a nationwide crackdown on child prostitution. During the three-day operation, at least one underage female sex trafficking victim was recovered in San Rafael.

In March 2017, law enforcement officials conducted a human trafficking operation that led to the arrest of 12 men for prostitution-related crimes in hotels in San Rafael. The focus of the operation was to promote awareness about human trafficking and educate those soliciting sex about their conduct. According to police, the 12 men had allegedly solicited prostitution. They were between 19 and 63 years old and all were from San Rafael. They were all released with citations.

In June 2017, a team of investigators in Marin arrested five men in a sting targeting child prostitution. The sting was part of Operation Cross Country, an annual nationwide crackdown on juvenile sex trafficking. The San Rafael Police Department, the Novato Police Department and the Marin County Sheriff’s Office participated in the local operation. Investigators placed ads on the internet offering children for paid sex and arrested the suspects when they showed up for the meeting at a San Rafael hotel.  The men were booked into Marin County Jail and released on bail pending further review by county prosecutors. Police identified the suspects in news releases. During the operation, investigators also contacted a Fresno woman they suspected to be a victim of forced prostitution. She accepted services and emergency shelter.

In May 2022, three people accused of soliciting minors for sexual acts were arrested in a six-hour sting operation conducted at a hotel in San Rafael. Police placed ads on targeted websites. Those who responded and appeared at the hotel to complete the transactions were arrested separately on suspicion of soliciting a minor for lewd purposes, a felony. Police said they came to the hotel after agreeing to exchange money for sexual acts with a 16-year-old. The California Highway Patrol; Fairfax, Novato and Sausalito police; the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center; the Marin County Sheriff’s Office; the county probation department; and the District Attorney’s Office assisted in the operation. The agencies are members of the group Marin Coalition to End Human Trafficking.

In addition to conducting reverse sting operations, the SRPD has also participated in operations using IT-based tactics to deter sex buyers. In August 2017, a joint operation was conducted in San Rafael by the San Rafael Police Department (SRPD), Central Marin Police Authority, and Marin County Sheriff’s Office to target men who pay for sex. Undercover officers posed as prostituted persons in an area of the city well-known for prostitution, and five men were cited with solicitation of prostitution. Their names and identities were released to the public. Law enforcement simultaneously posted decoy advertisements in the “Women Seeking Men” section of an escort website. The SRPD partnered with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office Human Exploitation and Trafficking (HEAT) Watch Program to generate automated replies to text messages sent to the decoy ads. When sex buyers called or texted the advertisement, they received an instantaneous message back warning them their phone number was now recorded with the SRPD and that human trafficking only thrived because of the demand. The text also contained a link that provided more information about sex trafficking. The decoy ads were contacted by 365 unique buyers in a 10-hour period, and 150 buyers contacted multiple ads.

Key Partners

  • San Rafael Police Department
  • Marin County Sheriff’s Office
  • Marin Coalition to End Human Trafficking
  • California Highway Patrol
  • Fairfax
  • Novato
  • Sausalito Police Department
  • Northern California Regional Intelligence Center
  • Marin County District Attorney’s Office
  • FBI
  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
  • Central Marin Police Authority
  • Alameda County District Attorney’s Office
    • Human Exploitation and Trafficking (HEAT) Watch Program

Key Sources

Street-Level and Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Identity Disclosure:

IT-Based Tactics:

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 California
Type City
Population 60769
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