On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors threw its support behind a package of proposed state laws aimed at combating child sex trafficking by, among other things, increasing jail terms for people who buy sexual services from minors and adding trafficking to a list of gang- related felonies.
The "War on Child Sex Trafficking" package includes five bills pending in Sacramento and will be supported by a public awareness campaign of ads on Metro buses and trains and on billboards that will be unveiled by Supervisor Don Knabe on Friday.
"These (proposed laws) are small, but necessary steps that must be taken to shut off the demand for young children," Knabe said. "We must take a stand and collectively say 'No more. Not in our streets. Not to our young girls.'"
At the board's meeting, however, representatives of the Youth Justice Coalition, which works to curb youth violence and is pushing for an overhaul of the juvenile justice system, expressed concerns with the legislation.
Many coalition members are survivors of sex trafficking, organizer Kim McGill said, but "we cannot support the bills as they are now written."
In particular, she said, the package "eliminates discretion of judges" and "focuses on incarceration and punishment rather than prevention, intervention and treatment." The bills, she said, should be amended to decriminalize youth sex workers and move them toward resources for health, counseling and employment and to provide alternatives to incarceration for sex buyers.
"Criminalizing sellers and buyers will only perpetuate the system that does not provide opportunities to the people that turn to this industry to begin with," coalition member Alexis Reinier told the supervisors.
The package consists of Senate Bill 473, which would add trafficking to those felonies that may be used to establish a pattern of criminal gang activity; SB 955, which would authorize wiretapping in sex trafficking cases; SB 982, which would make the crime of buying sex from a minor punishable by up to three years in jail; SB 1388, which would impose fines of up to $10,000 on anyone convicted of soliciting a minor; and SB 939, which would allow prosecutors to consolidate trafficking cases from multiple jurisdictions into a single trial.
"Traffickers across the country can make anywhere between $11,000 and $33,000 a week selling young girls," Knabe said, citing a recent study by the Urban Institute. "Sadly, the buyers and sellers of this industry are rarely punished for their crimes."
—City News Service