On September 26th 2016, an amendment to the current penal code in California for sections 647 and 653.22 was filed with the secretary of state. California has now officially passed these changes to its state penal code. Why should I care, you might say to yourself. Well to some extent we should all care about a disturbing trend that this change has put into motion, namely, the decriminalization of child prostitution.
While many have made arguments on both side of this change in recent weeks, the reality this change means is that no minor, meaning any persons under the age of 18, can now be criminally prosecuted for prostitution, lewd conduct in public, exposing themselves in public, loitering and soliciting sexual acts, engaging in sexual acts for money, or soliciting sexual acts for money on an online platform. That’s the reality these acts will no longer be considered criminal when engaged in by a minor.
The reasoning by those who passed this amendment is that children in these circumstances are victims and thus should not be criminally prosecuted for their actions. The only provision in this change that offers some alternative to prosecution is a procedure for law enforcement to follow that involves filing a report with the child welfare office with any, and all information they can provide on the minor that was observed engaging in this behavior. This also includes a provision for taking a child engaging in this behavior into temporary custody for the purposes of placing them in a temporary home, but the standard for placing a child in temporary custody without a warrant is still very high and this does not indicate that police will be able to take children straight off the streets while prostituting and place them in loving homes immediately; far from that.
Some may be reading this and thinking well of course children who are prostituting themselves should never be criminally charged, this is obviously a good thing; However, those thoughts are based on sentiment and idealism and not based on the circumstances we encounter every day in the real world. While many are focusing on trafficking of children through organized gangs and criminal organizations, which obviously should be stopped, there are other avenue’s that lead minors into a life of prostitution and decriminalization will do the opposite of helping those individuals.
A very obvious consequence of this in regards to human trafficking elements that take advantage of children, specifically, is that they will be more inclined or likely to utilize abused and exploited children when those children cannot be arrested, prosecuted, or imprisoned. An unfortunate reality of the world we live in is that this is a benefit for these criminal elements, because that child that cannot be taken away to jail, EVER, can now earn more money for these types of elements in our society.
On another level we must consider the teenage drug addiction demographic. Those that participate in child prostitution due to drug addiction are not necessarily doing so because an adult somewhere in the picture is forcing them to. These individuals will not receive drug treatment, health care, three meals a day, a roof over their head that they would have received in prison. This decriminalization will encourage them to continue to utilize prostitution in order to fund their drug addiction and this cannot ultimately lead anywhere good.
The reality of these situations, no matter how ugly and distasteful we find them to discuss, is that in order to try to hold those accountable responsible in trafficking situations and forced child prostitution, law enforcement needed some form of leverage and even then, often times these abused children will not help law enforcement find and prosecute those who are trafficking them. Taking away the criminal charges gives law enforcement less tools to work with to try to change the reality for these children. It is incredibly rare within our current system for any minor to be fully criminally prosecuted — as it stands it was simply a tool that was on the table to enable law enforcement to try to remove as many of them from these situations as possible and also hold those that are truly responsible accountable and that tool is now gone, at least in California.
This law change has very little available in it to help law enforcement help these children and adding the procedure of passing along the child’s information to child welfare services will do even less than law enforcement was able to do before. Many children in these circumstances will not have permanent addresses or valid information, and child services reports in and of themselves will do no good if these children cannot be found after the fact by child welfare.
We as a nation must oppose more states following suit and adopting policies like California’s, because they have perhaps unwittingly created an almost impossible situation for the actual victims in these circumstances. If we truly care for those that are the most vulnerable in our society, then we will not let those in power continue to normalize it by decriminalizing these situations that the children live in day to day. Ultimately this will lead to more kids being forced into these terrible living situations and far fewer of them will ever be rescued than what the previous law allowed for.
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