California Prostitution Law Reform Takes Effect

by dmatson on January 4, 2017

California has decriminalized prostitution for minors as a way to treat underage sex workers as victims and not criminals.

As of January 1, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law that protects young girls from criminal penalties associated with being trafficked for prostitution. Under the new law, young people caught in prostitution arrests will also be allowed to testify remotely against their pimps or traffickers, as well as receive help and be taking into temporary custody.

Controversy over “Legalization of Child Prostitution” in California

Some conservative commentators have either mistakenly or deliberately made false claims as to how the law works and it’s intent.

  • Child prostitutes are not “left on the streets” to continue working their trade. Police can and must report incidents of kids on the street to child welfare as abuse and neglect cases.
  • If there is clear evidence of sexual exploitation, the victims are taken into temporary custody.
  • Adults soliciting sex are still arrested on criminal charges, including many serious felonies for paid sex with minors.
  • Anyone arranging, managing or profiting from trafficking is still being charged with felony sex offenses.
  • Statutory rape laws are still in effect, and the age of consent in California is 18.

Reform of Prostitution Laws

Reforming prostitution laws is a national topic that takes many forms in criminal justice circles.

  • Efforts to treat minors and victims of sex trafficking as victims and not criminals is a national movement. Decriminalization is one tactic, as is supplying housing services for runaway or homeless youth so they have a safe place to go.
  • Many advocates for reform are working to increase penalties and law enforcement focus on “Johns”, or those seeking and soliciting sex for hire. In many cases, police arrest women for selling prostitution more often than men buying it. To increase penalties and stigma on the demand side may change how the law and how society treats this issue.
  • Legalization or at least decriminalization of consensual sex work between adults is another growing movement among libertarians and other reformers.

There are likely to be more states enacting legal reforms and changes to their prostitution laws now that California has taken the lead.


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