Capitol Alert

Minors won’t be arrested for prostitution in California

Oakland police officers arrest a suspected juvenile prostitute, Wednesday May 21, 2007.
Oakland police officers arrest a suspected juvenile prostitute, Wednesday May 21, 2007. Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

Cementing a major shift in how California handles sex crimes, Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed legislation decriminalizing prostitution for minors.

By prohibiting law enforcement from arresting people under the age of 18 for soliciting or loitering with intent, Senate Bill 1322 effectively shields those young people from criminal penalties. Advocates argued that young sex workers should be treated as victims, not criminals.

A similar rationale informed several bills on Brown’s desk dealing with human trafficking. The governor also signed Assembly Bill 1761, which allows human trafficking victims to avoid conviction for nonviolent crimes they committed at the behest of their traffickers, and Senate Bill 823, which allows courts to vacate past convictions for crimes people committed under traffickers’ coercion.

Also earning Brown’s signature were measures allowing minor trafficking victims to testify remotely and to receive services provided to witnesses.

While embracing the idea of treating young sex workers as victims, law enforcement groups warned that removing penalties would remove a crucial tool for detaining young people and keeping them away from their abusers.

Brown vetoed a measure that would have established pilot programs for dealing with trafficked youths, arguing in his veto message that “there are numerous federal, state and local effort underway to combat commercial sexual exploitation of children” and said that another proposal should be considered during budget discussions next year.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert