Posing as women soliciting sex for money, undercover sheriff officers on September 20-21 posted online ads and offered to meet potential takers at a Goleta motel. The two-day sting resulted in 17 arrests, the youngest was 19-year old Joshua Silverstein of Santa Barbara and the oldest was 78-year old Frank Palmer of Goleta.
The operation was part of a larger effort against human trafficking countywide. “Sometimes [criminals] don’t think women are trafficking victims, but most of the time they are,” said Brian Olmstead, head of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office Human Trafficking Task Force. As the county learns more about human trafficking, it’s becoming evident that most women are being forced or coerced into a prostitution — which reclassifies those women not as willing participants but victims of human trafficking.
The number of human trafficking victims has grown in the county over the past two years. In the last five years, the task force has noticed a significant increase in the number of online ads, said Olmstead. “It’s just exploded.” There was a slight decline because of the shutdown of backpages.com, a popular prostitution website, but that only encouraged other sites open space for sex ads, said Olmstead. The tasks force’s current focus is on ‘demand reduction,’ he added. “We’re trying to make it so that no one traffics here.”
The 17 men arrested were booked and released with a notice to appear for violation of solicitation of prostitution, a misdemeanor. While not all of the men’s criminal histories were run, Olmstead believes it is the first prostitution violation for the majority of them. The maximum penalty is six months in jail and/or $1,000 fine. More often than not, first-time offenders serve no jail time. Defendants can also make deals or plea agreements with the court to reduce their penalty.