A week ago, I penned a piece regarding California’s newly passed SB 1322, and asked why California hadn’t slid off into the Pacific Ocean, as we’ve long been promised it one day would do.
SB 1322 is a California senate bill that “decriminalizes” child prostitution. The article I wrote highlighted the outraged position of a Republican lawmaker in the California Senate, who felt there was no difference between decriminalizing and legalization, and who also felt this newly passed law was opening a Pandora’s Box of troubles for children in the state.
I personally agreed with him, and still do.
I was immediately inundated with messages from people who wanted me to reconsider the “facts” of the bill, assuming I had not read its content.
That part is right. I’d only heard bits and pieces about the bill and it struck me as a bad omen of things to come.
After reading the bill further, I felt no more swayed to consider it a positive thing than before I read it.
And yes, I know others will disagree.
Some, however, have a street-level view of the issue and see it for what it is.
Tony Herrera is a California law enforcement officer, who has over a decade of experience working undercover with prostitution-related cases, and who also works with E3 Research, a policy think tank group based in California.
Officer Herrera submitted an op-ed to the Washington Examiner, and he makes some very cogent points, cutting through the “feel good” narrative that California lawmakers have pushed, regarding SB 1322 – that this is helping victimized children, by not giving them a criminal record and making them wards of the state, so they could get help.
As a California law enforcement officer, I have dedicated my life to helping those who can’t help themselves, and so child prostitution debates strike a nerve with me. This is not just a political debate for my colleagues and me. This is what we dedicate our lives to. I can say with full confidence that California has implemented a harmful policy that will cause further exploitation of our state’s most vulnerable children.
California SB 1322 “exempts persons under 18 years of age from criminal statutes regarding soliciting, engaging in, and loitering for purposes of prostitution if that minor receives money or other consideration.” Further, it “will require a law enforcement officer to refer the juvenile to a county social services agency.” Make no mistake, California: This is the legalization of child prostitution.
I have struggled with the explanation some who have contacted me have used that this new law did not legalize child prostitution. It just made it “not illegal.”
Well, that’s clear as mud, isn’t it?
To put it another way, the English Oxford Dictionary defines the word, Decriminalize in this way: Cease to treat (something) as illegal or as a criminal offence.
I have seen the claims stating that law enforcement can still “interfere.” Temporary custody and referring juveniles to a county social services agency is in not sufficient for disrupting the child sex trade. That requires tools to truly get to the source of child prostitution – by taking down the pimp. It’s not a pleasant fact, but it’s true: Without the threat of criminal charges, coerced child prostitutes have no incentive to turn in their pimps. By eliminating the jurisdiction of the juvenile delinquency court, California politicians took away tools prosecutors and law enforcement can use to convince a juvenile prostitute to turn in her pimp, get the help she needs, and end the cycle.
Supporters of SB 1322 surely have good intentions. They, however, imply that we law enforcement officials opposing their law do not have the same exact goal. We’re not trying to punish children. We’re steering them to safety. The purpose of the juvenile delinquency system is to rehabilitate, not to punish, which is exactly why juvenile records are nearly automatically sealed for most crimes.
And that’s another good point. The criminal records of minors are sealed, and it takes quite a bit of legal maneuvering to have those records cracked open when they become adults.
This, however, is the most chilling part of Herrera’s argument, and it is one that I’ve stressed, myself, having researched and written about human sex trafficking on more than one occasion:
On the subject of pimps — it is important to note that this black market thrives on legal loopholes such as these. Not only did California tie law enforcement’s hands and remove their only opportunity to address the source of this heinous issue — California has now provided pimps more incentive to recruit and exploit minors: only these prostitutes would be shielded from arrest and jailing. Further, we have now given them a marketing tool to appeal to our most vulnerable youth by telling them that our justice system now no longer criminalizes this act.
Did you catch that? Vulnerable youth will be targeted by the manipulations of pimps even more voraciously now, because the ghouls that traffic human misery will see more profit in pimping out a commodity that can’t be arrested. Making them “wards of the state” doesn’t have quite the same sobering effect as being brought in by the police. Not to mention, lawmakers apparently are watching too many crime dramas, and they feel law enforcement can’t be an active part in arranging for compassionate care for these exploited youth.
Officer Herrera goes on to point out that although he felt the intentions of lawmakers in this case were good, they’ve inadvertently made a bad situation worse. He suggests that they go back to the drawing board, and this time, include law enforcement in the process, rather than cut them out.
I agree. After all, who has a better take on the problem: bureaucrats in the state capital, or the officers on the streets, who see it and deal with it every day?
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