Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sexual Exploitation Bill in Governor's Hands (CA)

This really is groundbreaking! This is the only law on the books in the entire country like this one, and it won with a landslide. (New York's version, the Safe Harbor Act, didn't pass last year.) How exciting that finally we are getting a state law passed that DECRIMINALIZES prostitution for minors!! I would like to say that Florida is next but the reality is that we've only just begun to even see the issue, much less address it. You never know.


Legislation would decriminalize actions of children involved in sex trade, instead treating them as victims.

By Kamika Dunlap
Oakland Tribune

OAKLAND — Potentially landmark legislation that would decriminalize the actions of minors involved in the sex trade and instead treat them as victims, reached Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk Tuesday to be signed into law.

Assembly Bill 499 this week cleared the Assembly 66-0 after passing the Senate 73-1 last week, with bipartisan support along the way. Lawmakers' voting indicates the need to address the growing number of sexually exploited youths in the Bay Area who have been forced into prostitution, child pornography or human trafficking. During the past several years, the sexual exploitation of minors has exploded in Oakland, with children as young as 11 peddled on the streets and over the Internet for sex, authorities said. In addition, the city has become a stop on the sex-trade circuit in the Bay Area and Las Vegas.

"Unfortunately, commercially sexually exploited minors are currently arrested and processed through the criminal justice system as offenders," said Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland, who sponsored the legislation. "These youth do not receive the services necessary to protect them from harm, with the result that many repeatedly fall victim to the same predators upon release."

Schwarzenegger has until Sept. 30 to sign the bill into law, otherwise it will automatically become law.

Currently, if a minor younger than 18 is picked up for prostitution, she is charged as a criminal and sent to juvenile hall.

However, social service workers and law enforcement agencies are hoping a new law would change that and connect them with the services they need. The law also would help girls who want to bring charges against a pimp.

"It is a moral imperative that we act quickly to rescue these children and track down the violent predators who are the true criminals," Swanson said.

The outcome of AB499 will help to crack down on pimps, prosecuting them with maximum sentences, Swanson said.

Recently, authorities in Oakland rescued four child victims of human trafficking and arrested 12 people in connection with child prostitution charges, according to FBI officials. The arrests by the Oakland Police Department were part of a larger federal sweep that lasted five days and targeted 16 cities nationwide. Called "Operation Cross Country," a Justice Department-led effort, recovered four children in Oakland June 18, the most children recovered in any location that night, FBI spokeswoman Patty Hansen said.

Oakland police also conducted their first citywide sweep last month to make sure several hundred registered sex offenders were in compliance with state laws, including verifying residency and having DNA samples on file with authorities. Operation Compliance Check 2008 resulted in 231 compliance checks, which netted 12 arrests and the collection of DNA from five registered sex offenders.

"The biggest problem is the issue of awareness," said Lt. Kevin Wiley, commander of the Special Victims Unit for the Oakland Police Department. "(AB499) brings everyone to the table, makes it everyone's problem, and gives them the opportunity to solve the problem through education, training and awareness."

Reach Kamika Dunlap at 510-208-6448.

AB499's provisions:

**Increase coordination between government, law enforcement and child advocates working with sexually exploited children to ensure they are treated with similar types of care to that received by victims of domestic violence, which includes access to shelters and counseling.

**Create a pilot program in Alameda County to implement a uniformed training curriculum to properly treat sexually exploited minors as victims of coercion and not criminals of intent. The curriculum also would train law enforcement, prosecutors and public defenders to properly recognize the signs of sexual exploitation of children.

**Require that the training curriculum be available to area law enforcement and criminal justice agencies.

Other links to AB499:

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