A very popular tourist town on the Central Coast became the center of a recent prostitution sting. Police said it's more of a local issue affecting our communities, rather than a draw for people living out of town.
The Santa Cruz Police Department and the Sheriff's Department said the city is has a growing problem with prostitution. Officers said in some instances high priced escorts are catering to local wealthy men.
Santa Cruz County prostitution enforcement agents said on Friday, March 21st, they busted four out-of-town women and a 17-year-old female, accused of prostitution. Three Santa Cruz men were also arrested, accused of trying to pay for a prostitute. Undercover agents said it’s a problem in popular tourist areas.
Police said the corner of Ocean and Broadway is a popular spot where prostitutes go to look for customers. But some hotel workers, who didn't want to speak on camera, said it's more of an off-season issue because during the summer months, rooms are more expensive and harder to come by.
We spoke with a Santa Cruz County advocate against human trafficking, who said prostitution isn't something women usually do by choice.
"People are trafficked, forced to come to work with promises of getting visas or working here legally. All of a sudden they're kidnapped or forced into either the sex trade or working for free," said Laura Segura, executive director for Monarch Services.
Segura said she's seeing more women come through her doors in Watsonville, looking for help because they've become a victim of human trafficking.
"There isn’t enough support for the victim to get out of that situation because that's all they have known and they also don’t know how to trust anybody other than their pimp," Segura said.
Investigators said it's also an issue tied in with the local drug problem. Officers also explained pimps and prostitutes come to Santa Cruz because the courts seem to be lenient.
Eight individuals, including a 17-year-old Stockton girl, were arrested Friday night in Santa Cruz as part of a prostitution sting.
Members of the Santa Cruz County Anti-Crime Team, the Gang Task Force and the Santa Cruz Police Department conducted an operation in which undercover agents and police officers posed as prostitutes and johns.
The operation netted the arrests of three men and five females.
Antoinette Garcia-Torres, 21, of San Leandro; Maryann Davis, 22, of Sacramento, Christye Nance, 23, of Vallejo, and Lindsey Shandrika, 22, of Stockton, were arrested on suspicion of loitering to commit prostitution.
A 17-year-old female had a methamphetamine pipe in her possession as well, according to police. She initially gave officers a false name and was booked into Santa Cruz County Jail. She was later moved to Juvenile Hall on suspicion of loitering with intent to commit prostitution, possession of drug paraphernalia and providing false information to a police officer.
Officers also arrested 23-year-old Mario Linares-Aparicio, 54-year-old Robert Hammond and 41-year-old Anthony Horne on suspicion of loitering to solicit prostitution. Horne faces additional charges of possession of heroin and methamphetamine. He's also a convicted sex offender, according to the state's Megan's Law sex offender registry.
According to Commander Mario Sulay of the Anti-Crime Team, there's no evidence to suggest those arrested were affiliated with one another. However, the fact that the women were all from out-of-town is consistent with what police say has been a trend in the past couple of years.