The state of California has not legalized child prostitution, contrary to reports you may have read online recently.
The law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in September, does decriminalize prostitution in the case of minors — an important distinction as the law aims to protect children by treating them as victims, not as criminals.
SB 1322, in fact, bans police officers from charging minors with prostitution. Law enforcement officials will be able to take minors into temporary custody but under limited circumstances — including if there is an imminent threat to their lives.
And sex traffickers will still be held accountable.
As Snopes noted in September when the law was passed:
This does not, however, mean that child prostitution is legal. It is still illegal for Californians to hire prostitutes (child or otherwise), and sex traffickers will still face consequences if they are caught prostituting children.
The actual text of the bill states:
Existing law makes it a crime to solicit or engage in any act of prostitution. Existing law makes it a crime to loiter in any public place with the intent to commit prostitution.
This bill would make the above provisions inapplicable to a child under 18 years of age who is alleged to have engaged in conduct that would, if committed by an adult, violate the above provisions. The bill would authorize the minor to be taken into temporary custody under limited circumstances.
"The law is supposed to protect vulnerable children from adult abuse, yet we brand kids enmeshed in sex-for-pay with a scarlet 'P' and leave them subject to shame and prosecution," California state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D) said in a statement when Brown signed the legislation. "This is our opportunity to do what we say is right in cases of sex trafficking: stop the exploiters and help the exploited."
Though it has been months since the law was signed, some conservative media outlets and Twitter accounts have recently began peddling the idea that California will allow child prostitution unfettered beginning in January.
An op-ed in the Washington Examiner published Thursday reads:
SB 1322 bars law enforcement from arresting sex workers who are under the age of 18 for soliciting or engaging in prostitution, or loitering with the intent to do so. So teenage girls (and boys) in California will soon be free to have sex in exchange for money without fear of arrest or prosecution.
The piece erroneously states that: "Immunity from arrest means law enforcement can't interfere with minors engaging in prostitution."
At the time, Brown also signed additional bills that would protect victims from additional charges for crimes they might be forced to commit while a victim of human trafficking and seal their records, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Among the more than six other laws that Brown signed at the time, he also raised the age that children can testify outside a courtroom in human trafficking cases from 13 to 15. These bills will also protect victims' names from being released and require they have access to community services, The Associated Press reported in September.
The full text of SB 1322 can be found here for those who wish to read it.