Santa Barbara 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

Santa Barbara County is located on the Pacific Coast of Southern California, north of Los Angeles. Incidents of prostitution and human trafficking in and around the city of Santa Barbara and in other areas of the county have been reported for years. For example, in 2010, the Santa Barbara Police Department, responding to reports of a kidnapping, discovered a 20-year-old pimp and 18-year-old woman at a local hotel. Although the pimp was initially arrested on charges of human trafficking and pandering, he ultimately pleaded guilty to a lesser charge (coercion) and was sentenced to three years in prison; a restraining order barring him from contacting the woman was also issued. Similarly, in 2013, a pimp was arrested at a Santa Barbara hotel following a joint investigation by the FBI, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and SBPD. The man was charged with sex trafficking a 16-year-old girl, whom he had brought from the east coast. In January 2015, he was convicted of “two counts of human trafficking of a minor, along with the special allegation that he used force, fear, fraud, deceit and violence while trafficking [the] girl.” He was sentenced to serve a sentence of 38 years to life in prison.

To address such crimes, the county has implemented tactics that include those focused on consumer-level demand for prostitution. For example, in July 2016, 20 men were arrested in a reverse sting and their identities were disclosed in news reports. In September and October 2017, the SBSO arrested fifteen men, ranging from ages 22 to 60, on suspicion of prostitution-related crimes following a two-day law enforcement operation at a Lompoc hotel. The sting involved placing a notice on an online public website known for prostitution-related advertisements. The advertisement announced the availability of a female willing to engage in sex acts in exchange for money, and an undercover detective negotiated with responding individuals to arrange a sexual act in exchange for money.

In September 2018, undercover investigators from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department arrested 17 men between the ages of 19 and 78 for allegedly soliciting prostituted women in Goleta. Detectives conducted the two-day sting operation with officers placing online ads on several unidentified websites that are known for online prostitution. The ads offered sexual acts in exchange for money, and when the men showed up at a Goleta hotel to engage in paid sex acts with the women, officers made the arrests on the misdemeanor charges. The identities of the arrested men were included in press releases.

In November 2021, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office arrested four sex buyers in a human trafficking sting operation. The Human Trafficking Task Force conducted the sting operation with the goal of rescuing trafficking victims and connecting them with resources, identifying and arresting traffickers, and disrupting the demand for commercial sex. Because the investigation was ongoing, the sheriff’s office did not initially released names of those arrested. The sheriff’s office reminded survivors that support services were available through a community partner, Standing Together to End Sexual Assault. Their 24-hour confidential hotline number is 805-564-3696.

In February 2022, the Santa Barbara County Human Trafficking Task Force arrested 14 sex buyers while participating in the eighth annual “Operation Reclaim and Rebuild.” The operation focuses on rescuing human trafficking victims, identifying and arresting traffickers, disrupting the demand for vulnerable victims, and connecting victims with resources. Sting operations by the task force — comprised of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, and Santa Barbara and Santa Maria police departments — resulted in the arrests. Officers also identified two potential victims of sex trafficking and connected them to local resources through the Victim-Witness Program of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

Not all arrests of sex buyers are the product of sting operations using police decoys, but instead can result from investigations into alleged crimes against real victims. For example, in February 2022, the United States Department of Justice announced that a Fontana man had been sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for sex trafficking an underage girl from Santa Barbara County.  The four-day-long trial in November 2021 resulted in a federal jury finding the man guilty of one count of sex trafficking of a minor and one count of enticement of a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity. He had paid a teenager he met on the internet to sexually abuse her on two occasions. The offender first contacted the teenager on a public website, and then after exchanging messages they switched to Instagram messenger. The underage girl first told the man she was 19-years-old, but then almost immediately told him she was actually 16, when really she was 15-years-old at the time. The man drove to Santa Barbara County twice in April 2020, where he picked up the girl, took her to a hotel, and paid her a total of $600 to sexually abuse her. The victim’s family friend found the messages between the offender and the girl and reported the crimes to police. The case was investigated by the FBI with the assistance of the Guadalupe Police Department, the Santa Maria Police Department, and the Fontana Police Department.

Key Partners

  • Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office
  • Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office
  • Santa Barbara County Human Trafficking Task Force
  • San Bernardino County Human Trafficking Task Force
  • FBI
  • Guadalupe Police Department
  • Santa Maria Police Department
  • Fontana Police Department
  • Santa Barbara Police Department

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Arrest:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State California
Type County
Population 446475
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