LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced on Wednesday it was changing its policy on the treatment of children sold for sex, ordering officers to stop arresting youths on prostitution charges.
In a message sent to the department’s more than 18,000 employees, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell also encouraged law enforcement to change the language used to describe youths bought and sold for sex.
“While at times some have used the terms ‘child prostitute’ or ‘underage prostitution’ to describe victims of child rape, children cannot consent to sex,” he said.
“We must recognize the importance of law enforcement’s clear communication regarding who these victims truly are — they are child victims and survivors of rape,” the message read.
Under the new directive, should law enforcement encounter a person they believe to be an underage victim of sex trafficking, officers are encouraged to turn that youth over to a community organization dealing with child abuse, the Department of Children and Family Services or the Probation Department.
In a 2010 report to Congress, the U.S. Justice Department said statistics show that pimps and clients of youths are far less likely to be arrested than their child victims.
“A child victim of prostitution, if arrested or rescued from prostitution, rarely reports the identity of her trafficker or testifies against an arrested trafficker, because she often has become dependent on the trafficker or is fearful of retaliation,” it said.
The report also said that arresting youths in an effort to deter the practice has been ineffective.
The effort to change how the massive Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deals with child sex workers will be supported by a $1.5 million federal grant to investigate sex trafficking networks and launch new programs to support victims.
“We will not simply seek to dismantle criminal enterprises... but we will also develop new approaches aimed at rescuing young victims and addressing their needs in a victim-centered way,” McDonnell said.
On Tuesday, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors passed a motion declaring “there is no such thing as a child prostitute,” part of a wider national campaign launched by the human rights group Rights4Girls and the McCain Institute.
Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore