Officials announced the results of a three-day statewide crackdown on human trafficking crimes and rescue of victims on Tuesday, saying the most recent sting netted 510 arrests.
A total of 56 trafficking victims were also rescued in the operation, which took place last week and was led by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department with the cooperations of 85 other federal, state and local agencies.
The results of the fourth-annual series of raids known as "Operation Reclaim and Rebuild" — which refers to the goal of helping victims of the sex industry to reclaim and rebuild their lives — were presented by L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell during a news conference at the sheriff's headquarters in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday.
McDonnell described the sting as a "three-day assault on one of the most heinous crimes of modern times: the sexual exploitation of another human being for profit."
Of the 56 victims rescued, 11 were juveniles, and all were female. Officials said the average age of a juvenile human trafficking victim in California is between 12 and 14 years old, and 70 percent of victims come from the foster care system, but did not provide details on the specific victims rescued this week.
Officials are working with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking to rehabilitate the victims.
Among the 510 suspected criminals arrested were 30 men suspected of trafficking and 178 "so-called Johns," or men who purchase sex as a service, McDonnell said, along with others suspected of "internet crimes against children" and other unspecified offenses.
"We will never stop coming after you, arresting you, prosecuting you and throwing you in jail," McDonnell said.
The sheriff recounted one arrest conducted Tuesday by the Milpitas Police Department after a man dressed in "full police uniform" and carrying a weapon was allegedly found sexually assaulting a human trafficking victim. The man was later determine to already be on felony probation and wanted on suspicion of similar crimes, McDonnell said.
The enforcement spanned several California counties and included Las Vegas — but it was not confined to the streets. Detectives also used the internet to pose and minors and perform stings on those who attempted to pay them for sex or pimp them, according to McDonnell.
In on case, a detective in South L.A. posed as 16-year-old girl on the internet and was solicited by a 56-year-old man who was arrested after traveling 35 miles to have sex with her. Investigators say he acknowledged that she was allegedly a minor.
McDonnell also discussed a new initiative he hopes will "disrupt the demand side" of the market by using bots to communicate with suspected online predators.
The department places decoy ads that connect those soliciting sex to a bot programmed to converse with them. In three days, the bots exchanged over 3,100 text messages with 200 men seeking to purchase sex, McDonnell said.
"The conversations were concluded with the admonishment that their activity was illegal, exploitive and no longer completely anonymous," McDonnell said. "The disruption technique is specifically designed to let the buyer beware that law enforcement is aware of their actions and educate them about the consequences of those actions."
L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey also spoke at the news conference, saying her office is working to secure lengthy sentences for sexually exploitative crimes.
Last year, there were 200 human trafficking cases filed by the L.A. County District Attorney's Office, and some resulted in life sentences for traffickers. "That would not have happened five years ago," Lacey said.
McDonnell explained that sex work has become more lucrative than the drug trade, since sex as a service can be sold repeatedly and the internet makes the crimes relatively low risk.
Since the "Operation Reclaim and Rebuild" raids began in November 2015, more than 221 victims have been rescued, among then 157 children. Another 948 people have been arrested: 274 on suspicion of buying sex, 375 on suspicion of trafficking related offenses, 146 for internet crimes against children and the rest for miscellaneous other crimes, according to McDonnell.