Paying for Sex With A Minor Should be a Felony, Say Supervisors
By Elizabeth Marcellino, City News Service
The Board of Supervisors called Tuesday for harsher penalties against those who solicit sex from child prostitutes.
The crime is often “not complained of or conspicuous,” in part because some transactions are facilitated over the Internet, according to Long Beach police Chief Jim McDonnell. But once people start looking, he said, “This is in every big city and every small town across America.”
Los Angeles is one of 13 areas in the country identified by the FBI as having a high incidence of child prostitution.
Sheriff’s Chief of Detectives Bill McSweeney cited a two-mile stretch of Long Beach Boulevard crossing through Compton and Lynwood as a “longtime area for prostitutes and ‘johns’ to transact business and return to local motels” that support the trade.
About 5 percent of the roughly 300 prostitutes who work the area are juveniles, according to McSweeney. He estimated that as many as 1,000 “johns” cruise the boulevard during any 24-hour period.
Soliciting prostitution and having sex with a prostitute are misdemeanors under California law, regardless of whether the person being paid for sex is a minor or an adult.
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe recommended making the crimes a felony when someone under 18 is solicited or paid for sex. They also want to require those convicted to register as sex offenders and pay a minimum $10,000 fine.
“Our aim today is to make (johns) think twice,” Ridley-Thomas said, calling the crime “nothing short of modern-day slavery.”
Knabe said: “We must address the ‘demand’ side of this crime and make the penalties severe enough so that these ‘johns’ don’t continue to be nameless and free of any criminal record, while the girls are criminalized.”
A Department of Justice study estimates that nearly 300,000 children nationwide are “at risk of commercial sexual exploitation.” Authorities have identified victims as young as 9 years old and estimate the average age of child prostitutes when first sent out on the street at 12 to 14 years old.
Many are runaways from foster care, McDonnell said.
“The victims that we’re seeing are victims over and over again, not only on the streets, but often, unfortunately, in the system,” he said.
Other abuses are common, as child prostitutes are often raped, tortured or beaten by either their pimps or their customers, according to Michelle Guymon of the county Probation Department.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey told the board it was difficult to catch perpetrators, but that vice officers posing as children have had some success.
“This represents a change in our view of who are the true victims,” Lacey said. “These children feel they have no other place to go other than into the arms of their abusers.”
The county’s top prosecutor supported the harsher penalties and suggested another change to the law to take away the most common defense by johns that claim not to know prostitutes are underage.
A woman who identified herself as a survivor of child prostitution said the best deterrents would include jail time and publicizing customers’ names, while community service sentences would do little to stop those who exploit children.
The board voted unanimously to send a letter to the Legislature advocating the tougher sentences and adding Lacey’s recommendation to eliminate a defense of ignorance.
The supervisors also directed its lobbyists to support state and federal bills seeking to increase penalties for sexual crimes against children.
“We have a good opportunity now, as the new legislative season in Sacramento is gearing up, to continue to promote awareness of this horrific problem and develop effective legislation to help the victims and to go after the scumbags who purchase and sell girls for sex,” Knabe said in a statement issued following the board’s vote.
A bill proposed by Sen. Carol Liu, D-Glendale, would require adults who solicit sex from minors to spend a minimum of 90 days in jail.
Pending federal legislation would make soliciting sex from children a federal crime and allocate more resources to fight such crimes.
Both the state and federal bills are awaiting votes by legislative committees.
“Children are our most valuable asset and they should not be treated as commodities,” said Compton Mayor Aja Brown.Print This Post
September 5, 2013 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.