Santa Clara County is located south of San Francisco, and has a population of about 1,928,000. The county seat and largest city is San Jose, the 10th most populous city in the United States. Other communities of note within the county include Milpitas and Campbell. The county has long-running, documented problems with commercial sex and human trafficking. Among the efforts to address those problems are the use of tactics focusing on arresting sex buyers.
In October 2016, an undercover sting spearheaded by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office aimed to curb sexual exploitation within the South Bay’s underground sex trade. Through the first two days of the operation, the Santa Clara County Human Trafficking Task Force detained or questioned 20 prostitutes and customers in the joint effort that also involved the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, county juvenile detention, and local victim-advocacy groups. They arrested one man they suspect was pimping a 16-year-old girl. The enforcement action was part of a wider net of similar operations conducted across the country as part of the FBI-sponsored National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Santa Clara County had identified at least 150 cases of human trafficking in the prior year, at least 70 percent of which had been victims of sexual assault. In February 2017, the task force arrested or cited 30 alleged clients of prostitutes in operations in the weeks preceding the Super Bowl.
In December 2017, twenty-two sex buyers were arrested in a South Bay prostitution operation led by Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Deputies. Three of those arrested for soliciting an undercover officer for sex in exchange for money were also charged with conspiracy and attempted robbery. Two of the three men, armed with weapons, arrived at the meeting with undercover officers, and the third man stayed in the car to assist in the robbery. The identities of those arrested were publicly disclosed.
In September, 2019, the San Jose Police Department (SJPD) launched the “Report John Program” designed to reduce human trafficking and prostitution by reducing consumer-level demand. A SJPD press release about the program states that community members are invited to participate by reporting “Johns” they suspect of soliciting “sex workers.” Reporting is facilitated by a simple website form used on phone, tablets, or desktop computers that crowdsource feedback from the community. Residents can upload a photo and provide vehicle and other identifying information on a potential John. The Department’s Human Trafficking Unit then evaluates the information and determines if further investigation is warranted. If appropriate, a Public Safety Announcement (PSA) letter is sent to the registered owner’s address, alerting the registered owner that his or her vehicle was seen in an area known for high levels of prostitution. This letter also serves to educate the registered owner about the dangers of prostitution and related illicit activities.
In January, 2020, Santa Clara County law officers participated in statewide Operation Reclaim and Rebuild operation, the sixth year the sheriff’s office and five South Bay agencies participated in the state-wide effort to aggressively target suspects and victims of human trafficking. During the last week in January, undercover agents targeted sex traffickers online, setting up meetings in a Milpitas hotel. Detectives would respond to those ads and set up a date for commercial sex, and when the individual would arrive, they would be arrested. Sixteen male sex buyers were arrested for soliciting prostitution.
- Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office
- Santa Clara County Human Trafficking Task Force
- San Jose Police Department
Reverse Stings and Shaming
- “22 men arrested in massive south bay human trafficking bust- 3 allegedly rob sex workers at gunpoint.” KRON4.com, December 21, 2017
- “Trio arrested in attempted robbery of undercover officer posing as prostitute in south bay sting,” Mercury News, December 21, 2017
Web-Based Reverse Stings:
Public Education and Letters Sent to Potential Sex Buyers
Background on Sex Trafficking and Prostitution in the County