Children will now be considered victims—not suspects—in child sex trafficking cases handled by the sheriff’s department.
L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said on Wednesday that his department will stop arresting children on prostitution charges, reports the L.A. Times. The goal of the change in policy, according to McDonnell, is to focus on providing help to children in cases of child sex-trafficking instead of seeing them as suspects and arresting them. “They are child victims and survivors of rape,” McDonnell explained in a letter sent to his employees. “We must remember that children cannot consent to sex under any circumstance.”
The department will also stop using the terms “child prostitute” and “underage prostitution,” which McDonnell explained removes culpability from child traffickers and individuals that pay to have sex with children. In a conference on Wednesday about the issue, McDonnell pointed out that there will also need to be changes in the law and with how services are provided to children in need. He explained that officials frequently arrest victims in sex-trafficking cases as they find that to be the only way to access intervention services for the children.
The new approach for the department was announced just a day after the L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion that states “there is no such thing as a ‘child prostitute.” That motion also coincides with a national campaign launched by the McCain Institute and theHuman Rights Project for Girls aimed at shifting the perception of children as suspects to victims. The campaign uses the same phrasing as the board’s motion: “There is no such thing as a child prostitute.”
To help better investigate sex trafficking, while providing services to victims, the sheriff’s department was recently awarded a $1.5 million federal grant from the Department of Justice, reports the LA Daily News.