Elected officials in Los Angeles County and the California Legislature are launching a new push to crack down on pimps who sell underage girls and boys for sex and the customers who purchase their services.
County officials announced Friday that signs would go up around the region over the next few months -- on public buses and trains and at rail stations and bus stops, as well as on 20 billboards donated by Clear Channel Outdoor -- bearing messages like, "Teens sold for sex aren't prostitutes. They're rape victims."
The county board of supervisors also voted unanimously Tuesday to back four bills in the Legislature dubbed the War on Child Sex Trafficking package. The sponsors of two of those bills, state Sens. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) and Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), appeared alongside Supervisor Don Knabe to announce the campaign Friday.
"I strongly believe that the degenerates responsible for the rape and torture of girls as young as 10 for their personal profit should have nothing short of the entire book thrown at them in the court of law," Knabe said.
The bills include SB 982, which would make it a felony rather than a misdemeanor to solicit a minor for sex; SB 1388, which would increase the fines levied against pimps and johns and direct the money to a fund for trafficking victims; SB 955, which would allow investigators to seek wiretaps against suspected human traffickers; and SB 473, which would add human trafficking to the list of offenses that can be used to establish that criminal defendants are involved in gang activities, leading to potentially longer sentences.
At Tuesday's supervisors meeting, some youth advocates spoke against the legislation, saying the solution wasn't tougher criminal penalties but more resources for victims and youth who might be vulnerable to the sex trade.
Kim McGill, of the Youth Justice Coalition, said many of her members have "horrific stories" of abuse and exploitation, but said her group does not support the bills in their current form.
"Forty years ago when the war on drugs was first declared, and 33 years ago when the modern war on gangs was declared, this gives us a lot of information now about how engaging in a war against people becomes primarily a war against young people of color," she said.
Knabe defended the bills' approach Friday and said, "Some of the people who testified before the board are also the ones who want us to let all the prisoners out."
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