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California's new law that decriminalizes minors engaged in crimes associated with prostitution took effect January 1st, and is expected to make a big impact. The big thing that this new law does is allow minors who are forced into the sex trade and industry to be able to come to police without fearing arrest and prosecution. While many of the vocal opponents of the new law believe that minors will now run rampant through the streets prostituting themselves with legal impunity, this type of view shows a lack of a deeper understanding of the problem.
Although the law removes criminal penalties for minors suspected of solicitation and loitering with the intent to solicit, officers will still be able to take the minors into custody if they are suspected to be engaging in prostitution. The primary difference is what happens from the point of being taken into custody.
Social Welfare Versus Criminal Justice
Minors get wrapped up in the sex industry for all sorts of different reasons. The most egregious of which involves being forced into it by adults looking to make money. Regardless of the reason, the law in California will now consider any minor discovered soliciting sex as a victim of the sex trade rather than a criminal that needs to be punished.
This change in philosophy regarding how to treat minors in the sex industry should lead to law enforcement being able to make more top-level arrests of those in charge of the more serious sex trade violations such as human trafficking. By removing the penal aspect of the ground-level offenses, law enforcement will be better able to garner the trust of, and will be more able to actually help, the minors forced into the industry.
Decriminalization for a Better Tomorrow
For alarmists who are up in arms about the change to the law, it's probably best to keep an open mind. The effects of decriminalizing prostitution are complex and may not be what they seem at first blush. You may be shocked to learn that in places with decriminalization, there is less crime and violent crime associated with prostitution.
The media likes sensational news, and explaining how decriminalization is the correct and rational approach to take does not get clicks, views, or engagement. Take for example the 299,998 sex trafficking cases that never existed in Houston alone (The Dallas Morning News reported that Houston had 300k sex trafficking cases, when in fact there were only two).