California State law states that children under the age of 18 cannot consent to sex. So why are numerous counties in California treating sexually-exploited children as criminals?
“Jackie”* ran away when she was 13 to escape the abuse she suffered at her Los Angeles County home. She ended up falling in with a similar group of runways who lived together and supported each other. To pay for her place in the groups’ house, she fell into the sex trade to cover her food and board. Over the years, the police picked her up eight times and charged her with prostitution. Now, at age 16, she has a criminal record which has made her ability to find a job nearly impossible.
Five hours north, in Alameda County, police picked up 15-year-old “Tanya”* for solicitation several times. When they were processing her at the precinct the third time, it came out that she was under 18, had a baby daughter by one of her johns and was squatting in an abandoned building. When they realized that she was a minor, the officers immediately alerted child services which was able to place her and her child into protective custody.
We need your help! Right now, legislation pending in California, USA could help Jackie get the same help that Tanya received – vital support that recognizes and treats her as a vulnerable child, rather than as a criminal. Frequently, these children – overwhelmingly girls – are victims of sex trafficking or forced into the sex trade because they have no other options. Instead of continuing to harm them by putting them into the criminal justice system, Bill SB 1322 would prohibit a minor who has “engaged in or attempted to exchange sex acts in return for money or other forms of payments” from being arrested or punished – rather, the legislation would require authorities to notify child services when they encounter a sexually-exploited child. And, in situations where the child needs immediate medical attention or if their health or safety is in danger, juvenile courts would have the ability to provide temporary custody.
SB 1322 passed California’s Senate with a 74% majority and could be voted on by the Assembly at any time during the current legislative session. Take Action today!
If a child cannot legally consent to sex, then authorities should not be able to arrest and charge them for prostitution.
Passing SB 1322 would be an important step to fixing this problem and helping to stop California’s vulnerable children from falling through the cracks of the criminal justice system. Join Equality Now in calling on the California State Assembly to actively support and pass the bill this month so that sexually-exploited children have a better chance of redirecting their lives in a positive direction, without the burden of a criminal record.
Thank you for your activism!
Here's some sample language for inspiration:
Dear Assembly Member [name]:
I urgently request that you actively support and vote in favor of bill SB1322. This bill will protect vulnerable children who have been exploited in prostitution from being arrested and treated as criminals – children who are often forced into the commercial sex trade through sex trafficking or because they have no other viable options.
Under California law, a child under the age of 18 cannot consent to sex, however, exploited children in multiple Californian counties are regularly charged as criminals. SB 1322 would prohibit their arrest and require that authorities report the situation to the county child welfare agency. It also allows for the Court to take temporary custody when a child needs immediate medical care, if they are in immediate danger of physical or sexual abuse or if their physical environment threatens their health or safety.
If a child cannot legally consent to sex, then authorities should not be able to arrest and charge them for prostitution. By keeping such children out of the juvenile justice system and providing protection for them, SB 1322 will give exploited children a better chance to repair their lives. Please vote yes on this bill today.