The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has stopped arresting children on prostitution charges.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell sent a memo to his staff of 18,000 personnel asking them to stop referring to minors they pick up in the street as child prostitutes and start acknowledging them as victims of abuse.
McDonnell has also instructed his employees to stop using the terms “child prostitute” and “underage prostitution.”
"They are child victims and survivors of rape," McDonnell wrote in the memo to his employees. "We must remember that children cannot consent to sex under any circumstance."
The Sheriff sent the memo as part of the “No Such Thing As A Child Prostitute” campaign that was launched last month by the D.C.-based advocacy group Human Rights Project for Girls.
Girls between the age of 12 and 14 are “easy prey for traffickers and exploiters,” according to Human Rights Project for Girls. Child sex trafficking is so pervasive in some cities in California that the school district in Oakland has implemented a curriculum that teaches young students about sex trafficking.
Young girls living in foster care placement are at an even higher risk of becoming victims of sex trafficking.
Two thirds of the 174 L.A. youth under the age of 18 arrested for prostitution-related charges in 2010 were in foster care, according to a 2012 briefing presented to the L.A. County supervisors.
In Los Angeles, and like many cities in the country, foster care youth are disproportionately kids of color.
Across the country, foster care youth are also disproportionately becoming victims of sex trafficking. In 2013, 60% of the child sex trafficking victims recovered as part of a FBI nationwide raid were children from foster care or group homes.
“Portraying these vulnerable children as anything else fails to acknowledge the trauma and victimization they have endured and serves to cloud the role of the criminally involved offenders,” Sheriff McDonnell went on to write in the memo.