SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) – Santa Clara County law officers are touting the success of a recently-concluded operation designed to rescue victims of human sex trafficking and arrest those responsible for the crimes.
“The Bay Area has a high concentration of commercial sex,” said Sergeant Kyle Benner, a member of the sheriff’s Human Trafficking Taskforce.
Three additional members joined Benner at a news conference at the sheriff’s headquarters on Younger Street in San Jose. They displayed evidence from the state-wide “Operation Rebuild and Reclaim.”
This marks the sixth year the sheriff’s office, in conjunction with five South Bay agencies, has 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.
“Our detectives here would respond to those ads and set up a date for commercial sex. And when the individual would arrive we’d arrest them for solicitation of prostitution,” said Benner.
Sixteen so-called “Johns” were arrested for soliciting prostitution. Authorities also arrested 36-year-old Isaac Lee, from the Sacramento-area. Investigators say Lee recruited young women for sex trafficking and kept them under his control using drugs and intimidation.
“If they don’t follow the rules of their pimp or their exploiter, then physical abuse is something that will be a result,” said Detective Brent Bugarin, of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Human Trafficking Taskforce.
January 30, President Trump signed an executive order creating a position within his domestic policy team dedicated to fighting human trafficking.
“My administration is fighting these monsters, prosecuting them and locking them away for a very long time,” said the president during a White House ceremony marking the occasion.
South Bay officials say the area’s diversity, population size, and strong economy exacerbate the problem.
“Traffickers will actually target the area and bring victims to here, to exploit them,” said Benner.
Officials say five female victims have been rescued as a result of operations last month. But with hundreds of sex ads likely representing thousands of potential victims, they say this type of crime is difficult to eradicate.
“The advertising online is just part of the problem. You’re also seeing people through social media, that we don’t always have access to. And stuff going on the street level,” said Benner.
For that reason, the sting operations that was just conducted in January continue throughout the year. “Operation Rebuild and Reclaim” to make one massive concerted state-wide effort.
As for the five victims that were rescued, officials say most if not all have substance abuse problems, and they’re getting them connected to the proper support agencies to help them.