Governor Gavin Newsom is getting pressure from sex trafficking survivors, anti-trafficking and family-values organizations, and a bipartisan group of legislators to oppose a bill already passed by the legislature to legalize loitering for prostitution. A letter asking Newsom to veto SB 357 was made public today and signed by 28 survivors, 12 elected officials, nearly 100 organizations, and over 800 individuals.
While SB 357 supporters say police use the law to harass sex-trafficked women on the streets, the letter points out that police also use the law against sex buyers and traffickers, and to save minors off the street. “For instance, Oakland Police Department arrested 68 sex buyers and exploiters in 2021 using the 653.22 (loitering law),” the letter stated. “In the first nine months of 2021 alone, the Oakland Police Department rescued nine CSEC children (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children) using the loitering law.”
The veto request also answers the supporters’ claim that police use the loitering law to target racial minorities and those identifying as LGBTQ, using arrest statistics as their main source of proof. But the letter points out a commonly known fact that “black and Latinx women and LGBTQ+ community members are disproportionately represented in prostitution and exploitation statistics, not because of police discrimination and harassment, but because they are actually disproportionately preyed upon due to vulnerabilities such as housing and food insecurity and higher levels of mental illness, addiction, and generational trauma.”
Although SB 357 passed the Assembly by one vote and then passed the Senate on September 10, it was not given to the Governor to sign, but held at the Senate desk. Presumably, Newsom wasn’t ready to make a decision on the bill and wanted Wiener to get more support. Since then Wiener has been drumming up support by sending out emails and starting a petition, while promising to present SB 357 to Newsom in January.
Will legislators change their minds?
It remains to be seen if he has convinced any of the 20 Assembly Democrats or the 5 Senate Democrats who refused to vote for his bill to change their minds. All the Republicans and the one Independent in the Assembly, and all the Republicans in the Senate voted no on SB 357.
Senate Minority Leader Scott Wilk sent his own SB 357 veto letter to the governor last week. “While the intent of this legislation is to eliminate perceived profiling, the unintended consequence will be for it to embolden human traffickers and those seeking to purchase sex,” wrote Senator Wilk. “Penal Code section 653.22 [CA’s Loitering for Prostitution Law] discourages prostitution, gets trafficking victims off the street and away from the individuals that hold them captive or take advantage of them.”
Several Democrats in the Assembly spoke passionately against SB 357 when it came up for a vote last September. Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine) argued the bill would further endanger exploited women and girls.
Asm. Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), a former law enforcement officer, testified how SB 357 mirrored several other bills the legislature had passed in recent years making it harder for the police to rescue sex-trafficked minors. Cooper felt so strongly regarding the issue that he posted his speech on his website: Assemblymember Cooper Says SB357 Gets in the Way of Combatting Human Trafficking
“You can’t detain a juvenile suspected of being involved in prostitution. We banned that,” Cooper reminded legislators (SB 1322 in 2016). “You also can’t interview a minor. So how do you rescue a minor that is being human trafficked if you can’t detain them, you can’t interview them, that was passed here, to save them from a pimp?”
Sex traffickers “use minors a lot. How does law enforcement tackle that?” he asked. “Because the way the laws are written and the laws that have been passed, there really is no way to tackle it and deal with it.”
Cooper then explained that when police approach minors being trafficked now, “lots of minors you come up and they give you the finger and walk off because they have been told by their pimps we can’t talk to you,” Cooper explained. “Don’t talk to the cops – ignore the cops. That’s why pimps are better off using minors, “because you can detain an adult much simpler than you can a minor.” Watch the full floor debate.
Sex-trafficking survivors who spoke at a Capitol press conference several months ago expressed some of the same sentiments. “Police officers need to be trained on how to better spot [sex trafficking], not eliminated,” sex trafficking survivor Brianna said. “They need to be trained on the signs to look for. They need to stop people that they see. … Because without that, people like me would be dead.”
Sex trafficking survivor Hannah also spoke at the press conference regarding the important role police play in the fight against sexual exploitation. “With trauma-informed training and identification tactics, officers are an invaluable asset to the war against human trafficking,” she said. Watch the press conference below.