29 arrests made during ‘Operation Reclaim and Rebuild’ sex trafficking sting
SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan joined the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force Tuesday to announce the results of a second annual multi-agency operation across California to stop the sexual exploitation of young women and girls.
Operation Reclaim and Rebuild took place over a three-day period last week and focused on the demand side of human trafficking.
In San Diego County, 29 sex buyers were arrested and charged with agreeing to engage in an act of prostitution.
Related Link: San Diego People: Human Trafficking Awareness Month
“This operation is a wakeup call for men who buy sex, about the damage they are doing to our young women and children, and the cycle of abuse they are promoting,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “The men who were arrested are from all ages and backgrounds, demonstrating the need to raise awareness that when people pay for sex, the person on the other end of the transaction is often a victim who was forced into sex trafficking as a child.”
Operation Reclaim and Rebuild had three goals: disrupting the demand for vulnerable victims by targeting their buyers; identifying, arresting and prosecuting their captors; and identifying and recovering victims of sexual slavery and human trafficking to provide them with services.
Although this was the fourth annual Operation Reclaim and Rebuild, this is the second operation that incorporated law enforcement from throughout the state. The operation was a collaborative effort between the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force and the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force.
Law enforcement across Southern California joined together to send a clear message: men who buy sex are exploiting victims and contributing to a cycle of abuse. More than 70 percent of sex trafficking happens online, so that’s where law enforcement went to strike during this operation.
Fake ads for sex were posted online offering sex for money. When the men — some of them active duty military, others with wedding bands on — showed up at a hotel expecting to buy a person for their own sexual gratification, they were instead surprised by being handcuffed.
Their cars were towed and their phones were taken as evidence. One man had a dog waiting in his car, another arrived on a bicycle dressed in cycling gear with a backpack full of sexual props, and another was a sex abuse counselor at a local hospital, who showed up wearing scrubs.
“Buyers convince themselves they are involved in a hobby where there are no victims,” DA Stephan said. “The anonymity of the Internet emboldens Johns to ask for and expect the most extreme acts. They are often more violent than the pimps and traffickers themselves. Johns treat sex trafficking victims as less than human and they believe that there will be no one to hold them accountable for their actions.”
A university study showed the underground sex industry in San Diego is about an $810 million business each year. A District Attorney community outreach campaign, The Ugly Truth, highlighted the myths about sex trafficking, including the prevalence of men who pay for sex. During the three months the campaign was running, demand for sex decreased, according to the CEASE Network.
Partner agencies who participated in Operation Reclaim and Rebuild under the umbrella of the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force include:
- Naval Criminal Investigative Service
- U.S. Attorney’s Office
- U.S. Marshalls Service
- ICE Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego
- California Department of Justice
- California Department of Corrections
- California Highway Patrol
- San Diego County District Attorney’s Office
- San Diego Police Department
- San Diego Sheriff’s Department
- San Diego Probation Department
- San Diego City Attorney’s Office
- National City Police Department
- Escondido Police Department
- Chula Vista Police Department
- Oceanside Police Department
- Carlsbad Police Department