Should minors who are sold for sex be convicted of a crime?

Have you seen the crazy headlines claiming California has now legalized prostitution for minors? I hope you have chosen to dig deeper to engage the facts. Before California passed the Senate Bill 1322, minors who had been prostituted could be convicted of a crime and have a criminal record. Let that sink in for a minute. A minor, who had been forced to have sex with adults, would then be convicted of a crime. Can you imagine if this happened to your child, a friend’s child, or any child for that matter? Don’t kid yourself into thinking it couldn’t happen to your child. It is happening every day in our middle schools, high schools, at the mall, at the park, and at popular coffee houses. It is hard enough for a minor to get their life back together after such a traumatic experience but add a criminal record to the mix and it’s nearly impossible.

Yesterday I was contacted by a journalist for the Beijing Times asking to interview me in regards to this matter. She said that people in China were very interested in what we were doing and that she didn’t think it would protect minors. She wanted to know my opinion. Here are her questions and my answers. They were published in the Beijing Times here but do not translate well.

1. Whether you think this law could protect the minors and why? 

I believe the laws California has put into place do benefit and protect minors that are involved in prostitution and sex trafficking.  Minors should be treated as victims and not criminals. Whenever a minor is engaged in sex with an adult it is child sexual abuse. Minors are not mentally capable of having consenting sex with adults. To convict a minor of a crime for being prostituted is revictimizing them. It not only adds to the trauma of the experience, it also adds another barrier to the progress of moving on with their life and trying to establish normalcy and become a productive member of society. It is unfair to expect a minor to carry the burden of a criminal record for a crime they have been coerced or forced into. This law allows minors to be protected but not prosecuted.

2. Do you think California is ready for that now? At the aspects of social services, etc.

When it comes to protecting minors and helping victims, I am a firm believer the time is always now. I am a member of the Human Trafficking Collaborative that includes the District Attorney of San Diego, Federal and State Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys and victim services providers and social services. San Diego is one of the top 13 cities in the US for HICPA – High-Intensity Child Prostitution Area. We have some of the top human trafficking experts in the field who present their studies to our collaborative, along with police officers, probation officers, and lawmakers. We are continuously discussing the gaps in social services moving forward. The biggest need will be for temporary care and housing for the victims. They need to be geographically removed from their pimp or sex trafficker. Some of the resources can move from the delinquency side to the dependency side. It is complicated and there aren’t any easy answers or one answer fits all. It will be a united multidisciplinary team effort.

3. Anything else you want to share with me about that law?

I believe prevention is the key. There wouldn’t be a need for this law if there wasn’t a demand for prostitution in the first place. We need to teach our own children from the time they are born to respect other people’s bodies. We need to raise boys who will respect girls and grow up to be men who will respect women. We need to educate and empower girls to value themselves enough to not allow themselves to be taken advantage of. We need to teach our kids that someone’s body should not be bought or sold and does not belong to anyone. We need to have tougher laws and harsher consequences for the buyers (those who pay for sex) as well as the sellers (pimps and traffickers).