This is hardly the first time this has come up, but the California state legislature has just sent a bill to the Governor that looks at first glance as if it would legalize prostitution. Or perhaps decriminalizing would be a better word? As it turns out, neither of those descriptions are accurate. But the strangest thing about SB 357 is the way that its sponsors are describing it and the reasons they have given as to why and even more oddly when it was submitted. The name of the bill is the “Safer Streets for All Act,” and it’s now awaiting Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature. (Free Beacon)
The Democrat-controlled California State Legislature on Monday sent a bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) that will prevent law enforcement from arresting individuals suspected of prostitution.
The bill will eliminate the charge of “loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution,” the Associated Press reported Monday. Supporters say loitering-for-prostitution arrests disproportionately affect black, Hispanic, and transgender people. While both chambers of the legislature passed the bill last year, the bill’s sponsor, Democratic state senator Scott Wiener, said he waited until Pride Month to send the measure to Newsom’s desk.
California’s move to stop cops from combatting prostitution comes as leaders across the state struggle to address rising crime rates. Homicides in Los Angeles are on track to top last year’s all-time high, the Los Angeles Times reported last month. Angelenos’ fears about rising crime have helped the mayoral campaign of Rick Caruso, a tough-on-crime former Republican.
So the first thing to recognize about SB 357 is that it wouldn’t legalize prostitution. It wouldn’t even decriminalize prostitution. What it would do is remove from the books the law against “loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution.” In other words, the actual act of prostitution would remain illegal, but the cops won’t be able to pick up anyone “advertising their wares” on the streets or talking to prospective johns. I suppose there are some other ways – at least in theory – that the police could find someone engaging in prostitution and still arrest them, but picking up prostitutes on the streets is traditionally how it’s enforced, so prostitution will likely flourish if this bill is signed into law.
The bill picked up plenty of opponents along the way. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department opposes it. So do the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and the California Family Council. A spokesperson for the latter group described the bill as “perfect if you want sex trafficking.” Then again, Chesa Boudin supported it. (You’re shocked, I know.)
Even crazier is the timing of how the bill evolved. The legislature actually passed the bill last year. But the bill’s sponsor, Scott Wiener (stop snickering), said he purposely held off on sending it to the Governor until now because he “waited for pride month.” Seriously? He claims that loitering with intent charges “disproportionately affect Black, Hispanic, and transgender people.”
I never cease to be amazed at how Democrats lump in various minority groups when talking about the effects of law enforcement. What he’s basically saying is that Black, Hispanic, and transgender people are more likely to be prostitutes. Isn’t that sort of racist and transphobic? And while I’ll admit I don’t really have any direct experience in this issue, is prostitution really that common among transgender people? There have been some horror stories out there concerning men who picked up a prostitute believing they were a woman when they in fact were not and it ended very badly.
I’ve gone back and forth in my opinion on the legalization of the world’s oldest profession over the years. The libertarian part of me insists that women should be able to engage in whatever business they choose if it’s not harming anyone else. I doubt many young girls dream of growing up to be a hooker (unless they watched far too many reruns of Pretty Woman), but arresting them for engaging in that sort of trade just seems wrong.
But then I am frequently reminded of the human trafficking element to the crime that shows up all too often. Some prostitutes work for “pimps” who don’t allow them to keep the money they earn and abuse them. Children are also frequently trafficked into prostitution. The entire situation is horrible, but what California is seeking to do with this proposed law will address none of the underlying problems and just create another headache for law enforcement.