Saying not enough has been done to crack down on people who exploit children forced to become prostitutes, Los Angeles county officials will launch a campaign Tuesday to make California the most expensive state in the country to be convicted of soliciting sex from a minor.
Supervisors Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas are set to introduce a motion asking the state legislature to stiffen penalties for so-called "johns" from $1,000 to $10,000.
"Over the last 18 months, we have worked really hard to protect young victims of sexual exploitation," Knabe said. "But to stop this horrific crime, we must address the 'demand' side, and that is why we are asking the state to establish harsh consequences for those who solicit sex with young girls.
"I think that any scumbag who buys a 12-year-old should pay a severe penalty for what amounts to the rape of a child," he added.
"These are children who are being exploited for the enjoyment of unscrupulous men, and it is our duty to protect them," Ridley-Thomas said.
The two want to send letters to the state Senate and Assembly, as well as to Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris, to urge them to amend the state penal code to make paying for sex a felony -- rather than a misdemeanor -- if the victim is a minor.
They said it should also require that "customers" register as sex offenders and that the penalties be used to pay for programs that work to prevent the sexual trafficking of children. If they cannot afford the penalty, their assets should be seized, Knabe and Ridley-Thomas said.
The motion would call on Congress to strengthen federal laws as well.
According to the California Child Welfare Council, kids as young as 10 are being peddled for sex every day in Los Angeles County. Many of them come from troubled families and have previously been under the jurisdiction of the Department of Children and Family Services.
The council said child sex trafficking has become more profitable than selling drugs, noting that a pimp can receive $162,500 tax-free annually for each child he forces into prostitution and that the average life expectancy of children who enter the sex trade is seven years. This means, on average, a child forced into prostitution at age 12 will be dead by 19.
By law, children cannot consent to sex, and adults who exploit them are guilty of statutory rape. However, kids forced into prostitution are often criminalized, while their customers face lighter penalties.
"This is a loophole that must be closed," Knabe and Ridley-Thomas said in their motion. "There should be no 'get out of jail free' card for people who violate children."