Human-Trafficking Victims Get Help in Calif.

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday approved a series of bills aimed at protecting victims of human trafficking and exempting minors from prostitution penalties.
     The flurry of human trafficking-related bills increase protections for victims of California’s sex industry and allows law enforcement to place exploited minors into temporary custody. Brown also approved laws allowing certain trafficking witnesses to testify through closed-circuit television and to give courts the authority to vacate minors’ prior prostitution convictions.
     Slowing California’s underground industry of human trafficking and child prostitution was a major focus for lawmakers this legislative session. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center statistics, more than 711 cases of human trafficking were reported in California in 2015, and more than 3,800 cases since 2007.
     Brown approved seven separate trafficking bills on Monday, including Senate Bill 1322 by state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles.
     Mitchell’s proposal bars law enforcement from arresting minors for soliciting or loitering. She argued that SB 1322 was necessary because current laws don’t go far enough to protect child victims.
     “The law is supposed to protect vulnerable children from adult abuse, yet we brand kids enmeshed in sex-for-pay with a scarlet ‘P’ and leave them subject to shame and prosecution,” Mitchell said in a statement. “This is our opportunity to do what we say is right in cases of sex trafficking: stop the exploiters and help the exploited.”
     Mitchell has now authored four different bills dealing with human trafficking during her stint in the state Senate.
     Senate Bill 1129, by state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for prostitution crimes. Current laws call for repeat offenders to be sentenced to a minimum of 45 days in county jail.
     The trafficking bills overcame opposition from lawmakers who questioned whether the state’s overburdened social services programs could handle a potential influx of young trafficking victims. Meanwhile, some law enforcement groups warned that removing and lessening prostitution penalties could have the unintended impact of sending victims quickly back to their traffickers.
     Brown did veto a bill by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, to create safe houses for exploited children. Assembly Bill 1730 proposed a pilot program in four counties to provide rehabilitative services for youth sex trafficking victims.
     In a veto message, Brown noted that the state included $19 million for trafficking prevention and intervention in the state budget, and that Atkins’ pilot program should be dealt with during the budget process.

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