San Rafael, CA

Tactics Used

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

San Rafael is a city of approximately 58,000 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.

While residents of San Rafael have been quite vocal about their disdain for such activities, much of their requests and suggestions to law enforcement appear to targeted sex sellers (e.g., recruiting local Lions Club members to “pose as clients,” photograph and tape record women offering acts of prostitution) or prostitution in general (e.g., shutting down adult-oriented businesses).

By contrast, the San Rafael Police Department has targeted both sex sellers and 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 johns. 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 johns in an effort “to discourage female prostitutes from flagrantly soliciting customers in the streets.” Since that time, San Rafael Police have conducted frequent, small to mid-scale street reversals using undercover female officers as decoys. 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 prostitute was recovered in San Rafael.

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.

Key Partners

  • San Rafael Police Department
  • Marin County Sheriff’s Office
  • FBI
  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Key Sources

State California
Type City
Population 57713
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