As of January 1, a new state law aimed at decriminalizing children who are victims of sex trafficking is in effect. Now, exploited children and teens under the age of 18 who might otherwise be charged with criminal prostitution and locked-up, will be treated as victims and connected with treatment and other services.
Law enforcement officers will still be able to take trafficked children into temporary custody in order to protect them from further victimization. Courts would still be responsible for exploited minors “in the absence of responsible parents or guardians,” and law enforcement officers would “immediately report allegations of commercial sexual exploitation involving juveniles to agencies charged with protecting and counseling them,” said Senator Holly Mitchell, who introduced the “No Such Thing” bill last year.
“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,” Mitchell said. “This is our opportunity to do what we say is right in cases of sex trafficking: stop the exploiters and help the exploited.”
Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego are among 13 “high intensity” areas for child sexual exploitation in the US, according to the FBI.
In 2015, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell told department members to treat “child victims and survivors of rape,” as the victims they are, rather than criminals and “prostitutes,” and said that the department would be focusing their attention on traffickers and johns who victimize kids. (Read WLA’s previous stories on the trafficking crisis in Los Angeles and what LA law enforcement is doing to address the disturbing problem: here, and here.)
SB 1322 is an important step in a growing movement away from criminalizing trafficked kids. A handful of other bills addressing the issue of child sex trafficking have become state law this week. Read about them in WitnessLA’s September round-up of bills signed by Governor Jerry Brown.