No, California Democrats didn’t ‘legalize’ child prostitution

A police officer questions a girl in a South Los Angeles area known for sex trafficking involving minors.
A police officer questions a girl in a South Los Angeles area known for sex trafficking involving minors. Los Angeles Times file

A misleading column about a new state law by an Orange County lawmaker has sparked inaccurate online reports taking off on Facebook.

Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, wrote a piece for the Washington Examiner under the headline “California Democrats legalize child prostitution,” which has been cut and pasted by a variety of partisan websites as the basis for their false claims.

Allen begins his submission by stating that “Beginning on Jan. 1, prostitution by minors will be legal in California. Yes, you read that right.”

One website, Mad Patriots, linked to Allen’s column with its own post: “Sick, Perverted Liberal California Just Legalized CHILD PROSTITUION.” Among the untruths, the website restates: “Immunity from arrest means law enforcement can’t interfere with minors engaging in prostitution – which translates into bigger and better cash flow for the pimps.”


Allen is referring to Senate Bill 1322, by state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, which decriminalizes prostitution for minors by barring officers from arresting people under 18 for soliciting sex or loitering with intent to commit prostitution.

It generated significant legislative debate over whether the new approach is sound public policy, but it is false to say the law “legalizes” child prostitution in California.

Those soliciting the sex and those arranging the clients can still be charged with crimes. People caught having sexual conduct with minors can be charged with penalties ranging from misdemeanors to felonies carrying life terms, depending on the ages of those involved and the individual circumstances of the offenses.

It’s also wildly misleading to equate decriminalizing minors with law enforcement not being allowed to interfere with minors engaging in commercial sex acts. Under the law, officers who encounter minors doing so must report the circumstances to the county child welfare agency as abuse or neglect.

Commercially sexually exploited children, based on the bill’s analysis, may be taken into temporary custody “if the minor has an immediate need for medical care, or … is in immediate danger of physical or sexual abuse, or the physical environment” or the child’s unattended status “poses an immediate threat to the child’s health or safety.”

Under statutory rape laws, minors are not legally permitted to consent to sex – for money or not – and Mitchell’s law does not change that. Mitchell and supporters argue that sex workers should be viewed as victims rather than criminals. Her bill was supported by the Alameda County district attorney, American Civil Liberties Union of California, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the National Association of Social Workers.

In opposing the bill, the California District Attorneys Association acknowledged that “minors engaged in prostitution are often the victims of human trafficking.” But the group said the solution in the bill could “undermine law enforcement’s ability to address those exploiting such minors.”

Allen makes other misleading statements.

He includes a quote from Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley stating that decriminalizing child prostitution “opens up the door for traffickers to use these kids to commit crimes and exploit them even worse.” O’Malley initially opposed the bill, but ultimately signed on as one of its highest-profile supporters.

Allen and some websites also state the bill was approved by California Democrats who control the state with a two-thirds “supermajority.” Although the state’s dominant party did win supermajority status in the Nov. 8 election, Democrats did not have two-thirds control when the bill was passed. Moreover, a handful of Republicans voted for the bill.

PoliGRAPH is The Bee’s political fact checker, rating campaign advertisements and candidate claims as True, Iffy or False.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago