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Assembly Acts to End Criminal Charges Against Minors Trafficked in Sex Trade

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A police sign at Coolidge Ave. East 22nd Street in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

A bill that would eliminate criminal charges for minors who have been sexually trafficked in California survived a tight vote in the Assembly Thursday.

It took three tries before Senate Bill 1322 gained the 41 votes it needed to advance. The measure prevents children under 18 from being charged with prostitution. But opponents like Sacramento-area Democrat Jim Cooper argued preventing law enforcement from arresting children for the crime could backfire.

“Under the current law, law enforcement can arrest, detain, interview these children,” Cooper said. “This process leads to getting them the help they need and protection, and also separates the victims from the human traffickers. SB 1322 will undo all this.”

But supporters say these kids are victims, and under the new law would still get services without being classified as criminals. San Diego Democrat Shirley Weber says arresting them isn’t working.

“To put them into that environment where they are seen as criminals obviously isn’t the solution either because we’re still faced with it,” she says. “At least give us an opportunity to basically do something different.”


The bill now heads back to the Senate for a final vote.

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