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SACRAMENTO (ChurchMilitant.com) - Starting on January 1, underage prostitutes will no longer be arrested in California. Senate Bill 1322 forbids law enforcement from arresting minors engaged in prostitution, effectively legalizing it, according to conservative critics of the legislation.
California governor Jerry Brown signed this legislation into law on September 26. Travis Allen, a Republican assemblyman from California's 72nd assembly district, commented,
But legalizing child prostitution will only incentivize the increased exploitation of underage girls. Immunity from arrest means law enforcement can't interfere with minors engaging in prostitution — which translates into bigger and better cash flow for the pimps. Simply put, more time on the street and less time in jail means more money for pimps and more victims for them to exploit.
In response, state senator Holly Mitchell, who introduced Senate Bill 1322, remarked, "The law is supposed to protect vulnerable children from adult abuse, yet we brand kids enmeshed in sex-for-pay with a scarlet 'P' and leave them subject to shame and prosecution. This is our opportunity to do what we say is right in cases of sex trafficking: stop the exploiters and help the exploited."
Allen responded to Mitchell, commenting, "Minors involved in prostitution are clearly victims, and allowing our law enforcement officers to pick these minors up and get them away from their pimps and into custody is a dramatically better solution than making it legal for them to sell themselves for sex."
Human trafficking has become a major problem in California in recent years, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC). Statistics compiled by the NHTRC show that 1,012 human trafficking cases have been reported this year. "This is a destructive, predatory crime, and it’s right in our backyard, " said Deputy District Attorney Daniel Varon.
Jane Creighton, the coordinator of the human-trafficking unit at the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, has criticized this piece of legislation. She has argued that it's critical for law enforcement to be able to arrest underage prostitutes and hold them in secure locations because oftentimes these minors won't seek or accept help voluntarily.
Sean Hoffman, director of legislation for the California District Attorneys Association, has also spoken out against the legislation. Referring to the fact that law enforcement can no longer arrest underage prostitutes, Hoffman said, "If they can't keep a victim in a facility long enough for a provider to reach that child with services, then we undermine the efforts of a number of great community-based organizations that are having tremendous success in servicing victims of human trafficking."
The Catholic Church has spoken out strongly against human trafficking through official teaching and the words of various popes in recent decades.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason — selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian — lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity."
In a 2002 letter on human trafficking, Pope John Paul II wrote, "The trade in human persons constitutes a shocking offense against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights. Such situations are an affront to fundamental values which are shared by all cultures and peoples, values rooted in the very nature of the human person."
Pope Francis, in 2013, said, "Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that’s become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society, international security and laws, the economy, families and communities."