Prominently appearing on social media this week are headlines blaring that the state of California, in its leftist madness, has made child prostitution legal. Without debating the wisdom of past legislative decisions by the Golden State, taking a step back from those headlines and evaluating what is actually going on here is warranted.
In September, Governor Jerry Brown signed the law, along with others, in an effort to combat child sex trafficking in California, which happens to account for a large number of arrests of minors for prostitution. It is true, under the new law, minors will no longer be arrested on charges of prostitution, but will instead be referred to child welfare services.
Certainly, that might give one pause ... a reason for concern, even. And, for some, it did.
Recent public outcry can be traced back to an op-ed that appeared in the Washington Examiner, in late December (three months after the law was signed and just days before it went into effect) authored by California Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-CA). The op-ed is titled — wait for it — “California Democrats legalize child prostitution.” He writes, in part:
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. 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.
But many are taking issue with Allen's description of the bill, including the bill's author:
As Allen, himself, states, minors who find themselves involved in prostitution are, indeed, victims. Whether it is a 12-year-old smuggled into the country, a desperate 15-year-old runaway, or a 17-year-old “upscale escort,” they are victims of circumstance, manipulation, coercion ... or worse.
In an article at Reuters, Yasmin Vafa, executive director of Rights4Girls, said in a statement after the law was signed:
The passage of these critical laws marks a clear shift in the public perception of sexually exploited children as victims rather than criminals.
We are thrilled that media and lawmakers alike are beginning to understand that there is no such thing as a child prostitute.
And now that we all agree that minors involved in sex trafficking are victims, what about that whole “legalizing child prostitution” thing? Nope.
To be clear: prostitution of any kind — including sex with a minor for payment — is still illegal in California. Still with me?
Allen makes it sound as if law enforcement has to stand passively by if they witness child prostitution. That simply is not the case. From the text of the original bill:
A commercially exploited child under this paragraph may be adjudged a dependent child of the court pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (b) of Section 300 of the Welfare and Institutions Code and may be taken into temporary custody pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 305 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, if the conditions allowing temporary custody without warrant are met.
Allen's boldly stated concerns that decriminalizing prostitution for those under the age of 18 will leave pimps and child-smugglers free to ramp up business, and child victims of sex trafficking without anyone to protect them, are just not supported by the reality of the law.
And, more importantly, the hands of law enforcement officers are not tied under the new law. The goal is to rescue children from sex traffickers or feeling as if selling themselves is their only means of survival — not to burden them with a criminal record and fewer options in the future.