A task force made up of San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, and Arroyo Grande police arrested or cited 23 people between Sept. 3 and 5 on charges of prostitution or soliciting a prostitute. According to a press release, police mounted the three-day sting operation in response to suspicions of a recent trend of violence against prostitutes.
The organizing officer, Sgt. Kurt Hixenbaugh of SLOPD, said an investigation into the rape and robbery of two prostitutes in SLO and Pismo earlier this year led police to believe such assaults are common. It also brought them to the realization that victims rarely report the crimes for fear of being prosecuted for prostitution.
Hixenbaugh said he decided to organize the recent crackdown to suppress the illicit market that enabled the violent attacks.
“If we can make business bad, then we can put a dent in the activity,” he explained.
Women charged under suspicion of prostitution accounted for 10 of the 23 suspects listed in the police press release. The document says a male officer responded to ads posted at an online solicitation site. Police then arrested or cited the women after they accepted money in exchange for performing a specific sexual act.
One of the women stung by police, however, claimed she never explicitly agreed to perform any act. The woman, who asked not to be named, told New Times that an awkward back-and-forth with the undercover agent went on for 30 minutes before the cop started fumbling with his belt. When she went in to help, she said, uniformed officers entered the motel room and cited her.
“I wouldn’t agree to an act [for the money] because I know better,” she said.
New Times asked Hixenbaugh if he thought arresting the women was an appropriate response to the problem of unreported violence against prostitutes. He pointed out that the operation didn’t target prostitutes exclusively—the sting also netted 13 “johns”—and argued the illegal market was the underlying problem.
“It’s kind of hard to draw a line directly,” Hixenbaugh said. “But if we discourage the activity, it will reduce this kind of violence.”
“There’s a public health risk as well,” he added.
Hixenbaugh said the task force arrested one woman who reportedly knew she carried a sexually transmitted disease.
He said there’s no way to know if the sting will further discourage prostitutes from reporting violent crimes in the future because police have no idea how many unreported attacks have taken place.
The arrested woman contacted by New Times predicted that mentions of the solicitation site Myredbook.com in several local newspaper accounts of the sting would serve as free advertising for the website.
“That’s not going to deter anybody,” she said. “My phone will be ringing off the hook. I guarantee it.”