SAN DIEGO — Twenty-nine would-be prostitution customers were arrested in the San Diego area last week as part of a statewide crackdown on sexual exploitation of young women and girls, District Attorney Summer Stephan announced Tuesday.
The multi-agency effort, dubbed “Operation Reclaim and Rebuild,” took place over a three-day period, focusing on the demand side of human trafficking.
Stephan described the sweep as “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.”
“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,” she said.
The goals of the operation, a collaborative project of human-trafficking task forces in San Diego and Los Angeles counties, were to disrupt the demand for vulnerable victims by targeting their buyers; to identify, arrest and prosecute the victims’ pimps; and to rescue victims from abusive circumstances and provide them with rehabilitative services.
Since more than 70 percent of sex trafficking happens online, law enforcement personnel working the sweep made use of the internet to capture perpetrators. Fake prostitution advertisements were posted on websites, and when the so-called “johns” — some of them active-duty military members, others with wedding bands on — showed up at a hotel expecting to take part in illegal sex services, they found themselves handcuffed instead, officials said.
Many of those who take part in prostitution “convince themselves they are involved in a hobby where there are no victims,” according to Stephan.
“The anonymity of the internet emboldens johns to ask for and expect the most extreme acts,” the district attorney said. “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.”