Holly J. Mitchell (file photo)
Holly J. Mitchell (file photo)

SACRAMENTO –   A new law authored by state Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D- Los Angeles) decriminalizing commercially sexually exploited minors will take effect on January 1, 2017.

Senator Mitchell states:

“I proudly authored SB 1322 to protect minor victims of human sex trafficking from being further charged as criminals for commercial sexual exploitation. This notion perpetuated by, Assemblymember Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach), that my bill legalizes prostitution and commercial sex for minors, is categorically untrue.

It remains unlawful for a person under the age of 18 to consent to sexual intercourse in the State of California and that law remains in effect and is not changed with the implementation of my bill.  Furthermore, under California’s current Welfare and Institutions Code 300(b)(2), if an officer determines that a minor is in an unsafe situation they are required to remove the child from harm.

What this new law does is have law enforcement or a judge place underage victims of commercial sexual exploitation with California’s Department of Social Services, rather than arrest and charge minors with prostitution. Once again, Assemblymember Allen’s statement that, “…Immunity from arrest means law enforcement can’t interfere with minors engaging in prostitution…” is wrong.

Minors involved in prostitution are victims and we have a moral responsibility to provide them with a safe placement that protects them.  Juvenile hall is not that place. Being criminalized as opposed to being treated like a victim of rape through arrest, detainment and criminal charges is not how California treats victims of abuse.  It would never occur to us to arrest a victim of rape or domestic violence to “keep them safe” from their perpetrator.  Today we provide victims with safe shelters and wrap around services. SB 1322 will provide minor victims of human trafficking the same protection.

Nancy O’Malley, the Alameda County District Attorney and national leader on human trafficking issues, ultimately supported decriminalization and stated that, “in some counties, when safe placement was not available, law enforcement and others would default to juvenile hall.”  She further stated that, “This should not be the case.”  The problem is that not every county has services available in juvenile justice for minor victims.

The further misrepresentation that my bill will legalize commercial sex for minors thereby incentivizing traffickers to further exploit them is also false.  Traffickers tell children not to trust law enforcement and that they should fear arrest. We have learned from survivors that when they can trust law enforcement, they are more likely to report traffickers, seek out help from law enforcement in unsafe situations, and participate in prosecutions.

This bill does not alleviate law enforcement from their responsibility of protecting children.”

Senator Mitchell represents the 30th Senate District, which stretches from Culver City to South Los Angeles, and includes Century City, Cheviot Hills, the Crenshaw District, USC, Downtown and a portion of Inglewood.