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.
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.