SAN JOSE -- A 16-year-old girl who reportedly spent a third of her life working as a prostitute was rescued during a sting last week that netted 14 arrests of alleged prostitutes and johns, according to the San Jose Police Department.

"This type of operation is so important because unfortunately, it's not uncommon for us to come across juvenile prostitutes," said Sgt. Jason Dwyer. "Without a sustained effort to rescue them, they could get sucked into that type of work for life."

Aided by federal grant funds, the SJPD Human Trafficking Task Force conducted the two-day operation Feb. 13 and Friday along Monterey Road, considered by police to be the city's worst area for prostitution. A high concentration of motels combined with heavy vehicle traffic make the issue especially rampant on a stretch of Monterey.

Police launched an undercover sting Feb. 13 where a female officer posed as a prostitute, yielding the arrests and citations of eight people alleged to have solicited the officer.

Two days later, plainclothes officers conducted surveillance in the same area and arrested and cited four suspected johns and arrested two women on suspicion of prostitution.

They also found a 16-year-old girl who they identified as an East Bay runaway. She told officers she had been forced to work as a prostitute since she was 11 years old. The girl has been placed in protective custody.

"These officers conducting these operations ... know they're helping and rescuing victims who are more helpless than an adult would be," Dwyer said. "They're helping someone who can't help themselves."

Acting police Chief Larry Esquivel said the sting sends a message to sex traffickers working in San Jose.

"This type of activity will not be tolerated in our city," Esquivel said in a statement. "We will continue to look at similar enforcement actions and partnerships to address this problem."

Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.