One California politician is receiving a lot of backlash after asserting that the state effectively legalized child prostitution when it passed a bill aiming to treat minors caught up in the sex trade as victims of abuse and neglect, rather than as perpetrators.
SB 1322, which was approved last fall and went into effect Jan. 1, creates a special exception for children under 18 when it comes to certain activities that would otherwise be considered criminal when committed by an adult, including soliciting, engaging in or loitering with the intent to commit prostitution.
In an opinion piece for the Washington Examiner, a conservative news outlet, Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen criticized the law as heavily misguided, writing that "teenage girls (and boys) in California will soon be free to have sex in exchange for money without fear of arrest or prosecution."
His critics say that's not the reality and that Allen is spreading fake news and creating confusion. The authors of the recently passed law say it was designed to treat child prostitutes as victims of trafficking.
The article was shared on the Internet and social media, and many are talking about its ripple effects. The Republican Assemblyman spoke with "Take Two's" A Martinez about his op-ed.
The following interview has been edited slightly for clarity and length.
Do you really think that the state has said it’s OK for adults to have sex with minors?
That is an incorrect statement. What the law that was just signed into law and passed, which is now in effect as of Jan. 1, is that for minors under age 18 it is now no longer a crime for them to loiter with the intent to prostitute themselves or actually commit the act of prostitution for money in the state of California.
Excerpt from the piece: "Teenage girls and boys in California will soon be free to have sex in exchange for money without fear of arrest or prosecution." Do you think that’s a rational thing to say or write?
Well, I got to tell you, it’s the truth. This law is absolutely shocking, and it’s entirely true. I really hope that none of our minors will ever be so foolish as to ever want to do something like this. Clearly, anyone engaged in this are victims, but the bottom line is that the California Democrats did just pass this law. Child prostitution is no longer a crime in California for the minor.
Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if a child is having sex for money that an adult is forcing them to do this?
That’s really a question for the court, in terms of where the coercion is, but if anyone is having sex with a minor, that would be statutory rape.
I’m talking about the child here.
That doesn’t necessarily follow. The act of prostitution — solicitation of sex for money — that’s what this law allows. Clearly stated, regardless of the intent of the adult, if there is a minor involved in the act of prostitution, it’s now legal in the state of California. Law enforcement can’t do anything about it.
They can put them in custody and they do have to report it.
The reporting is limited to essentially either taking the child into child services if they feel the child is an immediate danger... or the law enforcement takes down their information and sends in a report. Hardly something [that] is going to stop someone on a street corner soliciting themselves.
The law though is supposed to decriminalize kids caught up in prostitution rings. Isn’t that the intent of this law?
Clearly, I think that people who are in favor of this law think that it’s going to help, but they’re seriously misguided. The law simply states that it is no longer a crime. Something that’s gone unreported is that it is now also legal for minors to pimp prostitution if they’re under 18. So now, not only do you have minors who are free to engage in selling sex for money, but now there are minors who are able to engage in pimping for money.
This only incentivizes pimps and others to further exploit our youth. This was a concept designed to help people and instead it’s going to have disastrous consequences.
How would you go about changing the law where kids aren’t victims, without making them criminals?
I’m actually going to be introducing legislation to repeal this law. What we actually need, is we need more and better enforcement. We need to have the police and our law enforcement agencies stop this activity. And the problem with this law is it takes out all of that ability. There’s a massive benefit when a police officer can apprehend, let's say, a 16-year-old on a street corner, and book them and take them in. They can now be taken off the streets, away from their pimp, away from a bad circumstance. They can actually put them into rehabilitative services.
If they're being taken away from their pimp, being charged with a crime and being made a criminal, how does that help?
In many of these cases, what will happen is these charges will get dropped and will get dropped in a plea bargain by a district attorney. They’ll say, "Look, we’re after your pimps. If you will testify against them, we will drop the charges." And this happens all the time.