March 16, 2017: EAST BAY TIMES - No, California has not made child prostitution legal
Link to original story HERE:
A harmful paradox existed in California law: Raping a child was sexual abuse, yet when someone paid to rape them, the child was arrested and detained.
This paradox was resolved on Jan. 1, when Senate Bill 1322, authored by Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, became law.
The bill ensures that children who are sold for sex receive the same protections and support provided to all victims of child abuse. It decriminalized victims of a crime, a milestone moment in the battle to ensure rights and legal protections for victims of child sex trafficking.
It’s disappointing, to say the least, that Assemblyman Travis Allen has chosen to use his public platform to attack this important bill by distorting the facts and spouting outright falsehoods.
Allen wrote an op-ed in the Washington Examiner that purported California had “legalized child prostitution.” While such outrageous claims might garner page views, they have no basis in truth.
In his opening paragraph, Allen claims, “Beginning on Jan. 1, prostitution by minors will be legal in California. Yes, you read that right.” If Allen really believes that to be the consequence of Mitchell’s bill, then he is reading it incorrectly. Under the new law child sex trafficking remains a crime, and traffickers and buyers are still subject to prosecution.
In his piece, Allen writes, “The tragedy is that California is in the grip of liberal politicians who believe we can help underage prostitutes by making it legal for them to be prostitutes.” The decriminalization of child sex trafficking victims is not the byproduct of “liberal politicians” with an agenda. It is thoughtful policy written to help children who are the victims of sex crimes.
Although the country is currently divided politically, helping kids who are the victims of sex crimes remains a bipartisan cause. In fact, California is the 15th state to pass a law that makes child sex trafficking victims immune to prosecution, and the majority of the other 14 states had Republican governors sign the legislation.
Allen argues that locking kids up is the only way to get them away from their exploiters. But this simply does not bear out in reality. In a specialized mental health program for sexually exploited youth, Oakland-based WestCoast Children’s Clinic annually serves 120 youth. More than 70 percent have been in the juvenile justice system. While it is true that incarceration can temporarily separate trafficked youth from their perpetrators, it doesn’t address the underlying trauma that makes them vulnerable to exploitation in the first place. Helping youth heal and create a path out of exploitation happens with intensive, long-term mental health and social services, not jail.
While Allen’s claims are blatantly — fact-checking site Politifact rated his statements on SB 1322 as “Pants on Fire” — that has not deterred him from continuing to spread misinformation.
In January, Allen appeared on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor.” During the interview, Bill O’Reilly told Allen he was shocked by the “travesty” of what Allen claimed the new law does and asked if there had been any outrage among “the child protection people.” Yes, we have been outraged — for years, in fact. Outraged as children were jailed while their rapists frequently went free. We worked hard to put an end to this injustice and to improve services to exploited youth through new state funding.
Opinion writers are welcome to write opinions. Talking heads talk and entertain people. That’s what they do. However, what makes Allen’s position especially inflammatory is that he has now introduced legislation to overturn this important law and recriminalize child victims of sexual violence. We cannot let this happen.
We are proud that California has joined the ranks of states that have passed laws making child sex trafficking victims immune to prosecution and stand ready to protect this achievement.
Stacey Katz is the chief executive officer of WestCoast Children’s Clinic, based in Oakland and Kate Walker Brown is an attorney and director of Child Trafficking at the National Center for Youth Law.