Santa Clara 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 Clara County is located south of San Francisco, and has a population of about 1,936,000. 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, well-documented problems with commercial sex and human trafficking. For example, in March, 2022, five suspects in a statewide sex-trafficking ring were sentenced after first being arrested in 2019, according to the California Attorney General’s Office. The investigation began in 2016 when detectives identified a sex trafficking victim at a motel. Over time, the investigation grew to involve 21 different agencies at the local, county and state level, with charges ultimately being filed in Santa Clara County. The five individuals were suspected of using to list sex trafficking victims at several locations across the state. Over a dozen sex-trafficking victims were contacted by authorities as a result of the investigation.

Among the efforts to address those problems are the use of tactics focusing on arresting sex buyers. For example, 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 prostituted women and sex buyers 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 – or sex trafficking – 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 buyers of prostituted women 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” – or male sex buyers – they suspect of soliciting prostituted persons.  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 sex buyers. 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.

The county has also operated a “john school” education program for sex buyers. YWCA Golden Gate Silicon Valley, in cooperation with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, developed and runs their First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP). FOPP is an intervention for men who solicit, agree to engage in or engage in any act of prostitution. The FOPP is a one-day, 5-hour long program that includes educational seminars and presentations by survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, law enforcement officials, public health workers, residents of highly impacted neighborhoods, domestic violence counselors, and human trafficking experts.

Key Partners

  • Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office
  • Santa Clara County Human Trafficking Task Force
  • San Jose Police Department
State California
Type County
Population 1936000
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