California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) has announced human trafficking reforms that would for the first time in California, treat the buying and selling of sex separately, increasing penalties for those purchasing sex while decriminalizing prostitution for minors who are by definition being victimized.
Assembly Bill 1708 would require a minimum fine and mandatory 72-hour jail hold for those caught seeking to purchase sex. The bill would also increase penalties for trafficking victims in and near schools. AB 1708 would also address the reality that commercially sexually exploited minors are unable to legally consent to participating, and are by definition victims of sex trafficking. Therefore, they cannot be guilty of committing that crime.
“Sexual exploitation is a much larger problem than many of us know or are willing to admit. It reaches cross all regions, incomes, and races to steal our children” said Gonzalez. “We’re sending a clear message that if you are a minor being trafficked, you cannot be held guilty of a crime when you are the victim of that crime. Plus, we’re directly attacking the demand for this exploitation by requiring purchasers go through a harsher penalty than just the current slap on the wrist they receive.”
Assemblywoman Gonzalez has conferred with victim advocates, support providers, law enforcement, prosecutors and other stakeholders in San Diego County and statewide to develop these proposals, drawing from experience on the front lines designed to reduce demand and more effectively help victims of sex trafficking.
An expansive recent study into the underground sex industry in San Diego County estimated more than 11,000 sex trafficking victims/survivors each year in San Diego County with an average entry age of 15 years old. It further found that 42% of first-time prostitution arrests were actually instances of sex trafficking, and estimated the industry generated $810 million in annual revenue regionally, involving more than 100 area gangs.
The juvenile justice system is not an appropriate place for underage victims of sex trafficking. Strip searches, physical restraints, and solitary confinement can all have a damaging impact on youth. Furthermore, a recent Department of Justice study found that 12% of detained girls experienced sexual violence while at a juvenile justice facility. Granting minors immunity from prosecution for prostitution better helps these youth through a victim-centered and trauma-based approach.