SACRAMENTO – Beginning on Jan. 1, police cannot arrest child prostitutes in the streets of California, except under limited circumstances.
In fact, police officers in the state will be banned from arresting any person under the age of 18 for soliciting or loitering with intent, according to Senate Bill 1322. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill on Sept. 26, and it will go into effect Sunday.
The law also requires police to report allegations of child prostitution to county child welfare agencies.
Advocates of the law say it will help child victims of sex trafficking get treatment rather than sending them to juvenile hall and tagging them with a rap sheet for prostitution.
State Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who introduced the bill, said, “The law is supposed to protect vulnerable children from adult abuse, yet we brand kids enmeshed in sex-for-pay with a scarlet ‘P’ and leave them subject to shame and prosecution. This is our opportunity to do what we say is right in cases of sex trafficking: stop the exploiters and help the exploited.”
But Travis Allen, a Republican lawmaker representing the 72nd Assembly District in the California Legislature, warned of the fallout from what he called a “terribly destructive legislation [that] was written and passed by the progressive Democrats who control California’s state government.”
“[T]eenage girls (and boys) in California will soon be free to have sex in exchange for money without fear of arrest or prosecution,” Allen wrote in a column published by the Washington Examiner.
Allen acknowledged that Democrats sincerely believe the law will help child sex victims, but he issued a dire warning about the “immoral” consequences of decriminalizing child prostitution.
“Unfortunately, the reality is that the legalization of underage prostitution suffers from the fatal defect endemic to progressive-left policymaking: it ignores experience, common sense and most of all human nature — especially its darker side,” Allen explained.
“The unintended but predictable consequence of how the real villains — pimps and other traffickers in human misery — will respond to this new law isn’t difficult to foresee. Pimping and pandering will still be against the law whether it involves running adult women or young girls. But legalizing child prostitution will only incentivize the increased exploitation of underage girls. Immunity from arrest means law enforcement can’t interfere with minors engaging in prostitution — which translates into bigger and better cash flow for the pimps. Simply put, more time on the street and less time in jail means more money for pimps, and more victims for them to exploit.”
Other experts agreed with Allen’s assessment.
Paul Durenberger, an assistant chief district attorney in Sacramento County who oversees human trafficking cases, told the Sacramento Bee in February that the legislation is similar to “bills that a trafficker would want to write to protect themselves.”
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, a respected leader on the issue of human trafficking, said the law “just opens up the door for traffickers to use these kids to commit crimes and exploit them even worse.”
The Bee noted that a program in Sacramento already relocates sexually exploited children from juvenile hall to treatment programs. Upon completion of the programs, child sex victims are cleared of charges.
Allen argued that when police officers take child prostitutes into custody, it helps young sex-trafficking victims escape their abusers.
“Minors involved in prostitution are clearly victims, and allowing our law enforcement officers to pick these minors up and get them away from their pimps and into custody is a dramatically better solution than making it legal for them to sell themselves for sex,” he wrote. “That only deepens their victimization and renders law enforcement powerless to stop the cycle of abuse. SB 1322 is not simply misguided — its consequences are immoral.”
California’s sex trafficking industry is notoriously large. In 2016 so far, there have been 307 cases of trafficking involving children and teens reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. In 2015, the federal government selected Sacramento as one of six U.S. cities to flagship a national enforcement team focused on stopping human trafficking.