By Ken A. Epstein
A new state law will take the first steps to protect young victims of commercial sexual exploitation, who up to now have been often treated as criminals.
“At last we can begin to attack this modern day slave trade,” said Assemblymember Sandre Swanson, the author of the legislation.
“Until now, the law treated these children, some as young as 11 or 12 years old, as nothing more than criminals. Yet the truth is that they are the victims, forced onto the street for financial gain by sexual predators.’
Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 499, saying in a prepared statement that he supported it because “it expands victims rights, provides further protections and develops training for law enforcement to better assist victims of these horrific crimes.”
Currently, youth who are forced into prostitution, child pornography or human trafficking are “arrested and processed through the criminal justice system as offenders,” Swanson said. “These youth do not receive the services necessary to protect them from harm, with the result that many repeatedly fall victim to the same predators upon release.”
About 300,000 young people in the nation are estimated to be victims of commercial sexual exploitation, Swan said.
Though the law is a move in the right direction, there still must be more funding for “wraparound services’’ to help youth escape from the cycle of exploitation, said Barbara Loza-Muriera, program specialist at the Interagency Children’s Policy Council of Alameda County.
In Oakland, Measure Y funds some programs, and Mayor Ron Dellums has been very supportive, Swanson said.
“Urban cities, like Oakland, are faced with an alarming epidemic of sexually exploited minors,” Dellums said in a prepared statement. “Tragically, the age of these victims is getting lower and lower. This crisis impacts not only the exploited minors but their families and neighborhoods where this illegal activity occurs.”