No, California Did Not Legalize Child Prostitution

FILE - In this April 25, 2014 file photo, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who as a prosecutor once specialized in child sexual assault cases addresses the Domestic Human Trafficking symposium in Los Angeles. Officials in Los Angeles County are adopting a get-tough tactic to deter men from soliciting sex from girls who are forced into prostitution — charging them with crimes that could mean prison time and registration as a sex offender. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

Earlier this week, an opinion piece by California Assemblyman Travis Allen titled “California Democrats Legalize Child Prostitution” took off on the internet, with all of us – myself included – thinking, “Sheesh, there they go again.” But by reading the actual text of the bill, it’s obvious that conclusion is an unsubstantiated hot take.

As both Allen and the bill’s author, Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles)  note, the purpose of the law is to make it easier for victims of sex trafficking to move on with their lives. If they have a prostitution conviction (earning a rap sheet as an extra layer of victimization), it’s that much harder to start over. But Allen concludes:

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.

Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. Law enforcement can’t interfere?

Pimping is still illegal. Solicitation of sexual acts – whether from a minor or an adult – is still illegal. Statutory rape is still illegal. So how is it that law enforcement can’t interfere?

Even so, Mitchell’s bill does allow for law enforcement to “interfere” and for the minor to be adjudicated as dependent and brought into state custody.

(2) Notwithstanding paragraph (1), this subdivision does not apply to a child under 18 years of age who is alleged to have engaged in conduct to receive money or other consideration that would, if committed by an adult, violate this subdivision. 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.

If you just take the first sentence of paragraph 2, it looks like it’s A-OK for minors to engage in prostitution – or at least that the minor wouldn’t be prosecuted. But then it adds that a “commercially exploited child…may be adjudged a dependent child of the court…and may be taken into temporary custody.”

It probably could have been worded in a more exact way, perhaps using an “and” clause, like this:

this subdivision does not apply to a child under 18 years of age who is alleged to have engaged in conduct to receive money or other consideration that would, if committed by an adult, violate this subdivision, and who meets the definition of a commercially exploited child.”

… and then create a legal definition of a “commercially exploited child.”

In addition, Leslie Eastman at Legal Insurrection writes:

Governor Jerry Brown approved other measures, in addition to SB 1322, that focused on fighting the scourge of human trafficking.

“He also signed bills allowing people to defend themselves against additional criminal charges or records if they were coerced to commit an offense as a human trafficking victim.

Others will raise the age from 13 to 15 that kids can testify outside a courtroom in human trafficking cases, protect victims’ names from disclosure and mandate they have access to county services.”

I concur with the conclusion reached by the writer of “Public Secrets“:

One can debate whether Mitchell’s approach is the right one and whether the bill is prudent, but to say it legalizes something as horrible as child prostitution is “fake news” that defames Senator Mitchell and Governor Brown, and is insulting to California and its people.

And, we have more horrible laws to deal with in California in 2017, including the ones stripping Second Amendment rights from the people. Let’s create more outrage about that.