The State Senate passed SB 738 “Sexually exploited and trafficked minors” unanimously today, and its fate proceeds to the Assembly. SB 738 allows for children who have been victimized through commercial sexual exploitation to be subject to California’s child dependency court, which is already tasked to protect abused and neglected children.
Without SB 738 becoming law, child victims of trafficking will continue to fall under the jurisdiction of juvenile delinquency court as criminal offenders. This criminalization of children in California who have suffered from the atrocity of being sold for sex, in many cases for years, has been frequently criticized by state, national, and international anti-trafficking organizations.
In 2012, California was one of 18 states to receive an “F” from Shared Hope International in its “Protected Innocence Challenge,” which grades state laws dealing with domestic minor sex trafficking. California’s grade was tied for second lowest score in the country. About California, Shared Hope International stated, “victims of child sex trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) offenses are provided with little protection under the law as victims.”
Also in 2012, James Dold, J.D., Policy Counsel for Polaris Project, an authority in combating trafficking in the U.S., insisted that children who are commercially sexually exploited be “protected, not prosecuted for crimes resulting from their being a victim of commercial sexual exploitation.”
The California Child Welfare Council’s report on “Ending the Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) of Children” issued this dire assessment: “CSE of children is an epidemic spreading at an exponential rate across the state.” That epidemic rages in the three California metropolitan areas of 13 across the country identified by the F.B.I. as having a “high intensity” of children being sold for sex.
The Child Welfare Council report emphasized that urgency in addressing this tragedy is paramount because “delay means more days of unimaginable suffering for thousands of children in California.”
California modern day abolitionists are responding urgently with plans to congregate at the State Capitol on June 24 and advocate on behalf of SB 738 to their assemblymembers. Although the bill from Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) passed through three Senate committees and the Senate floor unanimously, these citizen-activists intend to do their part to help make it law rather than simply hope for such an outcome.
Thirty-two citizens from across the state have already committed to attend a “Safe Harbor Advocacy Weekend” organized by International Justice Mission (IJM) and Red Window Project (RWP) staff.
The Sunday-Monday event includes includes a training session at 14th Ave. Baptist Church in Sacramento on June 23 before advocacy in the Capitol on June 24. Red Window Project is also conducting Safe Harbor Act advocacy training on June 16 in Alamo, CA, which is hosted by Cornerstone Fellowship-Walnut Creek. Both training sessions are listed at the advocacy event registration link.
A “safe harbor act” that would protect and provide services to child victims of sex trafficking rather than arrest and criminalize them has been IJM and RWP’s legislative priority for California in 2013. Because this dream is so close to becoming a reality, they are extending the deadline for citizens to register to attend their Safe Harbor Advocacy until June 2.
Then they’ll have much work ahead of them to schedule so many meetings with legislative staff on behalf of constituents. But helping child sex trafficking victims is a labor of love for these two non-profits.
So when it comes to advocating for safe harbor for child trafficking victims, they believe “the more the merrier.” Red Window Project often quotes this phrase from Proverbs: “justice is a joy to the godly.”
You can register to advocate for SB 738 to your assemblymember’s Capitol office here. You can also indicate your support for it at this on-line “action alert.”