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California goes Swedish on child prostitution

California has decided to try the famed "Swedish solution" to prostitution--specifically, child prostitution.

The idea of the "Swedish solution" is that if you decriminalize the selling of sex by individuals while retaining criminal penalties for purchasing sex and for trafficking and pimping, and while offering lots of "support services" for those who don't want to be prostitutes, you will magically make prostitution disappear. Really. Google it and you'll see the paeans of praise to the Swedish solution. Color me skeptical about these reports from Sweden, and color me even more skeptical about the probability that decriminalizing children's selling sex will lower the incidence of child prostitution in California. Color me very, very skeptical.

The Washington Examiner reported this legislative move accurately as "California Democrats Legalize Child Prostitution." Bang on cue, the unbiased (!!) Snopes came in with a "debunking" that was, in fact, merely a different political evaluation of the policy!

True, someone who read merely the Examiner headline might think that CA has decriminalized the purchase of sex with children, but the article itself is absolutely clear on that point. So, pro-tip: Read stories, not just headlines. Headlines have to be short.

I've actually looked up the text of the law. Here it is. And I'm really going to bend over backwards here and point out that the law says that police might be able to take child prostitutes into temporary custody as dependents of the court:

A commercially exploited child under this paragraph may be adjudged a dependent child of the court pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (b) of Section 300 of the Welfare and Institutions Code and may be taken into temporary custody pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 305 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, if the conditions allowing temporary custody without warrant are met.

So you go and find Section 300 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, and it says,

The Legislature finds and declares that a child who is sexually trafficked, as described in Section 236.1 of the Penal Code, or who receives food or shelter in exchange for, or who is paid to perform, sexual acts described in Section 236.1 or 11165.1 of the Penal Code, and whose parent or guardian failed to, or was unable to, protect the child, is within the description of this subdivision, and that this finding is declaratory of existing law. These children shall be known as commercially sexually exploited children.

So what's the problem? See, the police can take them into custody and get them help, and it's all good, right?

Not exactly. The problem is much more complicated than that. Minors who are trafficked may be afraid or unwilling to admit that they are being trafficked, and those opposed to the law have expressly said that the juvenile dependency aspect of the state is unlikely to keep them in custody long enough to break their connection with their pimps, to stop them from returning to prostitution, and to induce them to testify against their exploiters.

Some analysts have said that the remaining provision for custody in the law would apply only if "leaving them unattended would pose an immediate threat to their health or safety," with the concern that police will not be confident that they will not be chided for making a false arrest if a minor claims to be perfectly fine, thank you, and engaging in sex-selling freely. Given the quotation from Section 300, you might think that this would not be a problem, but speaking for myself, I believe those voicing concern about police inhibitions.

Sean Hoffman, the director of legislation for the California District Attorneys Association, spoke in opposition to the bills, explaining that everyone agrees that prostitutes under 18 are victims, not criminals. “Where we differ is in how much faith we have in the dependency side of the juvenile system to effectively handle this population,” he said.

It is undeniable that a minor who is a prostitute and connected to her (or his) pimp through fear, addiction, or emotional exploitation is going to have to be forcibly stopped from returning to the lifestyle. But will the "dependent custody" provision make that possible? Plausibly not.

But while supporters of the bill argued that it would provide a better way to connect young victims with social services, opponents countered that it would prevent law enforcement from helping vulnerable children who often don’t see themselves as victims, run away from unsecured shelters and remain tied to their traffickers through complicated psychological and emotional bonds.

And here.

Jane Creighton, the coordinator of the human-trafficking unit at the office of the Los Angeles County district attorney, suggested that legislators take a step back before passing SB 823 and SB 1322. Creighton told the Los Angeles Times that law-enforcement personnel must be able to arrest the minors and keep them in secure facilities because many will not voluntarily accept the services provided them.

The irony is that children, of all people, should be those we can all agree should not be allowed to prostitute themselves, right? Even a semi-crazed libertarian should agree to that. (Though I suppose a really crazed libertarian might not.) This is supposed to be the easy case, the case where all the blah-blah about "doing what you want with your own body" doesn't apply, because we are talking about minors, here. So, yes, locking kids up to prevent them from running back onto the streets and selling sex should absolutely and undeniably be a viable option, if necessary. And if, as seems to be what we're being told here, the child welfare system can't manage that and the criminal justice system has to get involved to bring that about, then for God's sake, keep the criminal justice system involved. This isn't rocket science, and "choice" should not be a relevant consideration. (Notice that I've put this entry under "choice devours itself." Enablement of child prostitution is definitely an example thereof.)

So if someone on your social media wall posts the Examiner page, and someone else posts the Snopes link and says, "Thank goodness, it's all a mare's nest. It isn't true," sadly, you should tell him he's wrong. It is true. And no good will come of it.

Related: See this old story for what we might call The New Zealand solution. This involves a "pragmatic approach," like just encouraging minor prostitutes over 16 to "try to get indoor [sex] work."

P.S. Fun Fact: The otherwise (in some ways) socially conservative American Solidarity Policy supports the "Swedish Solution" to prostitution. (Search "Nordic model" on the page.) There are certain drawbacks to trying to be a Euro-style Christian socialist party.

Comments (15)

Our old buddy Maximos once did a post on a closely related issue:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2009/12/liberalisms_and_liberaltariani.html

A few years ago the Supreme Court of Canada struck down all of our laws regarding prostitution, giving Parliament and the then-Conservative government one year to come up with better ones. The solution they opted for was based on the same Swedish model. I was not impressed and made the case against the Nordic model here: http://thronealtarliberty.blogspot.ca/2014/04/just-say-no-to-nordic-model.html Needless to say the government did not listen to me, the bill passed, and I lost 95% of what respect I still had for the so-called socially conservative evangelicals that had jumped on this socialist, egalitarian, feminist bandwagon.

Re: Snopes. Juvenal's famous question, "quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" ought to be the standard response everytime someone provides a Snopes link as evidence that this or that story has been "debunked".

I am having a lot of trouble understanding how this could work, even in theory.

with the concern that police will not be confident that they will not be chided for making a false arrest if a minor claims to be perfectly fine, thank you, and engaging in sex-selling freely.

Ok, so, I have 2 problems here. First, why in the world can a child even have sex - let alone for sale? Did they just undermine statutory rape laws here, without noticing? Or, worse, intentionally? You mean, all a kid has to do is claim "he paid me" and there is no more rape charge?

Secondly, how is it that a child can make a contract on her own? Why is she even competent to authorize a contract, regardless of what it's for? Seems to me that the very notion of the contract being real, without the consent of a parent (or guardian), should be out the window. Which would imply that if a child is TRYING to contract services like these, then either the parent is at fault for allowing it, or the parent is obviously incapable of preventing the child from seriously disorderly behavior, and needs intervention. So, why again, is it so hard to take her into custody? Because, she says, "it was a sale"? Well, THAT TOO is grounds for stepping in.

I am also seeing visions of civil contract law involved here: John: "hey kid, are you selling?"
Peggy: "Sure, it'll cost you $50."
John: "OK, that's a sale."
Cop (with wiretap): "OK, John, I am taking you in."
Peggy: "Wait, he owes me $50, we have a contract here."
Cop: "get lost, kid, John can't make a contract like that."
Peggy: "Maybe he can't, but I can, and he owes me $50."
Judge: "Peggy is right, the contract is valid from her side."
John: "Well, I don't owe any money if she doesn't provide the service."
Judge: "well, then the jail has to let her provide the service."

What the heck is your problem with decriminalizing the sellers of child prostitution?
The rationale of the California law simply is that minor prostitutes should be treated as victims rather than culprits. Whatever one's stance on prostitution in general is, this should be something every sane person can agree on.
Or isn't it a scandal that abused children can be prosecuted, charged for prostitution, and jailed, finally ending up with a criminal record? Sounds more like Saudi Arabia than the U.S. to me.
Decriminalization might (?) somewhat inhibit the possibilities of the policy to keep the children in safe custody. This is of course a legitimate concern, although I find your confidence naive that the American "criminal justice system" can be expected to take care of that problem and to provide such a safe place (perhaps in one of the overcrowded Californian prisons that, according to the Supreme Court, constitute a violation of the 8th amendment?).
Anyway, you should have put your concern into the broader context of the new law's rationale.

Since we are being all nitpicky and stuff, I'll point out that the Snopes article was not written in response to the Washington Examiner article or its misleading headline, it doesn't "debunk" the story (meaning determining it is mostly false) but claims the article from a website called Downtrend is a mixture of truth and fiction, and your own headline is both shorter and more accurate than the propaganda they used in the Washington Examiner.

As for the actual subject matter, since they cannot even legally consent to sex on what legal basis can minors be culpable for selling sex? Second, if they can be involuntarily made wards of the court, why couldn't they also be made to wear ankle monitors so that if they do leave an unsecured facility against court orders they can then be caught and sent to a secure facility? I don't understand why jail should be the first option in these cases and I don't understand why such a mentality is supposed to be better at gaining the trust and cooperation of these victims. Finally, the only certain outcome of the Swedish solution was that it drastically reduced street-walking prostitution, and despite Lydia's skepticism this has been confirmed in multiple government and NGO reports. So it isn't clear how much it will reduce child prostitution which is already underground so to speak, but to the extent that street-walkers are more likely than other prostitutes to be under the control of pimps and/or addicted to drugs then if those same factors are common in child prostitution there is a decent chance it could be more effective than the current system.

"The rationale of the California law simply is that minor prostitutes should be treated as victims rather than culprits. Whatever one's stance on prostitution in general is, this should be something every sane person can agree on."

A person becomes a morally rational agent, capable of sinning, once they reach the age of reason. This is commonly understood to be at, approximately, the age of seven for most children. Moral culpability is affected by environmental factors, psychological conditions, education, etc. The average age for the onset of puberty in girls is twelve. Thus, most girls should know that what they are doing is wrong in having sex. They may have been victimized into becoming prostitutes (although, see the case of St. Maria Goretti as an example of someone who preferred death to sin), but they have the moral obligation to escape the situation when the possibility presents itself. If they refuse to escape, to the extent that decision is freely made (one of the provisions of the California law), then their actions become malicious and they are liable for punishment. Since the California law ignores this distinction between coerced and free behavior, asserting, essentially, that there can be no malicious behavior while, ironically, specifying the exemption for exactly that behavior (free consent) which makes the act malicious, the law is, in effect, irrational. Such an irrational law is abusive of both reason and morality and may be ignored by any Christian. In fact, it actually abuses the girls by supporting malicious behavior. May God have mercy on the legislators who don't know or care enough to learn even the simpler tenets of correct moral theology, which should be reflected in the laws they pass.

The real problem, here, sad to say, is that in the Postmodern culture in the West, sex has been reduced to a mere biological act with no moral consequences. Kids can't drink because of the damage it does to their bodies and minds. The Postmoderns never stop to think of the damage that immoral sex does to their souls. Apparently, their concept of soul decouples sex from being a moral act.

Really, this law is just the logical consequence of being nothing more than a materialist. Many patents raise their children to believe that sex is an act which should be reserved for one they love (whatever that means), but never bring God into the picture or, if they do, it is coupled with a very poor explanation of the theology of sex. Many children are poorly formed by their parents in the understanding of virtue and, now, here comes the California legislature redefining a vice into a nothing.

Biblically, in Christ's time, at age thirteen, Hebrew boys become morally rational agents, sons of the Law. This corresponds to the age of puberty. Girls were, likewise, accountable at the age of twelve (the onset of puberty). This California law has no basis in Christian history. It is irrational, immoral, and ahistorical. It is, in every way, a perfect example of Postmodern legislating. Indeed, it is no law. It is an anti-law. Why bother to pay the legislators if all they are going to do is pass laws that, basically, amount to saying, "Whatever?"

The Chicken

As for the actual subject matter, since they cannot even legally consent to sex on what legal basis can minors be culpable for selling sex?

Step2, I quote again, as quoted in the article:

Sean Hoffman, the director of legislation for the California District Attorneys Association, spoke in opposition to the bills, explaining that everyone agrees that prostitutes under 18 are victims, not criminals. “Where we differ is in how much faith we have in the dependency side of the juvenile system to effectively handle this population,” he said.
Second, if they can be involuntarily made wards of the court, why couldn't they also be made to wear ankle monitors so that if they do leave an unsecured facility against court orders they can then be caught and sent to a secure facility?

These are empirical matters. Evidently the way that "wards of the court" works in CA (and remember, it's _temporary_ custody only that's allowed in the law anyway), they aren't going to be. And in particular not sent to secure facilities. Take it up with the system in California. I'd guess maybe it's something to do with a) the fact that the custody is temporary and b) the fact that the child hasn't been charged with anything, and hence can't be actually detained in the stricter sense of a "secure facility."

there is a decent chance it could be more effective than the current system.

Get back to me in five years if you have good evidence of that. Since the people in the system who actually work with trying to stop child trafficking in CA don't expect it, I don't expect it either.

A person becomes a morally rational agent, capable of sinning, once they reach the age of reason. This is commonly understood to be at, approximately, the age of seven for most children. Moral culpability is affected by environmental factors, psychological conditions, education, etc. The average age for the onset of puberty in girls is twelve. Thus, most girls should know that what they are doing is wrong in having sex. They may have been victimized into becoming prostitutes (although, see the case of St. Maria Goretti as an example of someone who preferred death to sin), but they have the moral obligation to escape the situation when the possibility presents itself. If they refuse to escape, to the extent that decision is freely made (one of the provisions of the California law), then their actions become malicious and they are liable for punishment.

Chicken, while I agree with the theory here, I tend to disagree with your application. In my understanding, there are so many girls (and I mean "many" in absolute terms: hundreds of thousands) who have been severely abused and victimized (many, by the age of 7), that there really are a lot of young prostitutes whose moral culpability for their condition is almost non-existent or so minimal that they are at most guilty of venial sins. In addition, there are a great many girls so educationally damaged by the schools and their upbringing that they DON'T KNOW that it is wrong to have sex as a prostitute, and others who even if they do know it in a vague way, they don't know it is gravely wrong. And, the other psychological factors that lead some of them (I won't hazard a guess about how many) to prostitution can be intense and exculpable - such as depression, which is rampant among teenage girls, who have been taught that they should be willing to have sex "if it feels good", even though somewhere deep down they don't feel that way but they cannot say why. So, while there certainly are prostitutes out there who are fully morally culpable, I would not expect very many of them to be minors, especially under age 16. Thus, I doubt that treating minor prostitutes as presumptively culpable is prudent in today's society.

Personally, I think that making the dividing point here between "adults" and "minors" is a large part of the problemm. There are AT LEAST 3 distinct categories that the law ought to distinguish (and this goes for statutory rape, also), but probably more like 4. First of all, I strongly dispute the cascade of Supreme Court decisions and following laws which forced states to accept 18 as the age of "majority", given how clear it is that many 18 year olds are not adults. Secondly, it is as obvious as the nose on anyone's face that most 17 year old girls are as ready (or unready) for sex as their 18 year old peers, and there certainly are 17 year olds morally culpable for inducing men into having sex. Whereas, at least in our culture (which is clearly very unable to make 12 and 13 year old girls ready for marriage), there is very definitiely a vastly high probability that any 13 year old girl involved in prostitution is doing it for reasons that are exculpatory.

So, ideally, I think that (a) the law ought to be ranged primarily around culpability as such, rather than age; and yet (b) there ought to be a presumption in favor of non-culpability for girls below a certain age, probably 15 to 16 will do in some communities, (but not in others); but with a another age range in which there is neither a presumption for nor against. But this implies (c) judges who ACTUALLY DECIDE how morally culpable someone is, and this requires that they have both common sense AND a specific training that comprehends moral innocence and guilt - which we can no longer presume to find in judges anymore. And (d) it should be possible for the state to say of girls (in all the groups, not just the lower-age ones) that if they are not morally culpable for their actions in prostitution, then they are also not competent to be left free to go back to it, and impose a regimen that will remove from them the opportunity to go back to prostitution. Either guilt or innocent victim-but-unable-to-fend status will do to justify state custody.

why couldn't they also be made to wear ankle monitors so that if they do leave an unsecured facility against court orders they can then be caught and sent to a secure facility?

Step2, I have wondered the very same thing. I wouldn't mind seeing it applied to aliens here on certain kinds of visas, and on non-violent criminals who have to check into probation, and other categories as well. I have come to suspect, however, that (a) they may be easy to destroy (perhaps it is as easy as taking a swim), or (b) that there are unexpected negative consequences to using them - though I don't know what: perhaps too many false alarms to respond to? Or too many REAL alarms?

Let me get this straight - it used to be that all parties involved were considered criminal - the seller (S), the buyer (B), the trafficker (T). Now, S is no longer criminal, but but B and T still are.

If B & T engaged in the activity when it was criminal for them, and that has not changed, why would they think it would change the overall stats? How does decriminalizing it for S reduce the number of crimes? Decriminalizing S may or may not be reasonable for various reasons, but reducing the occurrence of the crime does not follow.

How does decriminalizing it for S reduce the number of crimes?

The highly theoretical theory is that S becomes less afraid to seek help because not deemed a criminal. Hence S is (on the highly theoretical theory) more likely to seek and accept help to get away from the lifestyle. Hence less opportunity for T and B to exploit various members of class S.

As I said, color me skeptical of the highly theoretical theory.

Indeed, various people involved in trying to help the young sellers (see quotes in the stories linked) think it will be just the opposite and that the traffickers will tell the kids to get out there and sell all the more and tell the police that they are just fine, thank you, if asked any questions. And to run away from foster parents or shelters and come back if they are taken into temporary custody. Counting on the decriminalization to deter the police from arresting them and keeping them reliably away from their pimps. Hence, the prediction is that the incidence will, if anything, increase.

Even if it could be shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that the "Swedish solution" successfully reduces the amount of prostitution this would not justify the "Swedish solution" any more than some miracle lifesaving cure derived from embryonic stem cell research would justify the termination of fetal life involved. It is never right for the law to say "X can be legally put up for sale but it cannot be legally bought." It is bad law and in the long run the negative effects are sure to outweigh whatever positive results its supporters claim in the short term.

Gerry, that is my sense also.

The behavior of having sex with another outside of marriage is wrong, and because it is not performed alone, it is a ripe subject for laws prohibiting it. And since it is a behavior that is intrinsically disordered, a person who performs the act either with diminished knowledge of its wrongness, or diminished deliberation and consent, STILL does a disordered act, they are just less guilty than the usual. This implies not that the law should treat them as if the act were (for such a person) rightly ordered, but rather that they were involved in a disordered act with diminished (or no) guilt. Changing the law so that what the MINOR does is now legal is to implicitly say "the minor's action here is considered orderly, acceptable behavior." It isn't and shouldn't be acceptable. If and when we see that the minor is subject to diminished guilt due to defects in knowledge or consent, the penal effect of the illegal act should be modified to reflect that fact: use reduced punishment (for reduced culpability) or correction/ training / protective custody if they have effectively no guilt for the action. To simply erase the criminality of the minor's behavior arguably will have the effect of creating a deformed understanding of the wrongness of prostitution, leading men to consider it wrong primarily because of either its effects (promotion of pimping and other socially destructive forms) or because of its lack of true consent (i.e. with minors who are unable to consent), rather than the root reality, which is that it is disordered in its very essence. Since "the law is a teacher", this law will teach wrongly.

This is another reason that we need legislators who are not only clever enough to craft a budget, but who have a better-than-typical grasp of morality and human nature.

I remain puzzled why CA could not beef up the state protection of at risk minors caught in a web of prostitution without decriminalizing their acts altogether. Why are they unable to get custodial rules in place when the minors are being preyed upon by pimps and the like?

I remain puzzled why CA could not beef up the state protection of at risk minors caught in a web of prostitution without decriminalizing their acts altogether.

I'm sure they can. They just *think* that somehow a) it's more accurate not to criminalize since they are minors and b) that they will seek help more often if not criminal.

The odder question is the one Step2 raises: Why they cannot or do not beef up protections *while* decriminalizing. (Though that still leaves out the consideration of inducing them to testify against their pimps by the threat of criminal penalties.)

But I think this shows us that for whatever reason our society doesn't handle well things that are in a legal grey zone. If it's not criminal, it supposedly can't be forcibly prevented. Yet another reason to recriminalize suicide, I might add.

Child prostitution is a chain reaction of something badly handled with adult prostitution. There is way too many years that millions of men are hanging from the desire of the blonde prostitute. She is the new super prostitute and she thinks she is better than the old Maddalene. I rather like to see her as santa Chiara in the land of excessive freedom. Governments are going berserk, the don't know what is right or what is wrong when they look at this incredible prostitute on steroids. In fact she is more active than the traditional prostitutes....she also makes more money. While I understand that making protitution illegal in poor countries can turn a policeman into a pimp I also realize that if the government legalize prostitution you end up with a powerless policeman. When prostitution is illegal the prostitute feels guilty, in special way the prostitute that wants to pay taxes. OK. This was quite simple to understand. When the government allows prostitutes to pay taxes the government cannot run without responsability for the society therefore the tax for the prostitute must be way too high for the prostitute to fall in love with her strange job. It would be lack of respect for the people and for the entire religious world to ask a prostitute a tiny tax of 20-22 percent as if she is selling fries or doing a pipe cleaning service as the plumber does. The pipe is different and the tax must be different. Into the tax need to be included all of the possible law suits against prostitutes and expenses that a good government could have for running such a business. She brakes a marriage? There is a possible lawsuit. A teen-ager end up being a prostitute on her 18th birthday while wishing to be a prostitute? There is a possible lawsuit. There could be lawsuits for many other reasons. There is also the police service and social services, those are all expenses that politicians need to carry on their shoulders as government. Therefore, to legalize prostitution in a rich country is always a bad choice. To ask for tiny taxes is also a very bad choice.

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