Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
Certain laws enacted in the United States since 1965 have established anti-poverty and welfare programs aimed at helping the needy among us. However, despite spending $15 trillion, today’s national poverty rate is higher than it was in 1965. Laws, in and of themselves, do not solve problems. In fact, sometimes laws exacerbate the social breakdown.
As the calendar turned from 2016 to 2017, new laws took effect across our country. As a result, pleasure-seekers along the Strip in Las Vegas can now legally possess marijuana for recreational purposes. People with medical conditions can now have legal access to marijuana in North Dakota, Florida, Arkansas, Montana and many other states. And, in California, a state with one of the highest rates of unemployment among young people, there is a new minimum wage. Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of this new law may well be fewer jobs for young people.
Some laws do make one wonder. New Hampshire is finally getting around to outlawing bestiality. California will no longer reimburse the expenses of employees who travel to places that prohibit transgender bathrooms. And, now convicted felons can vote from their jail cells in the next California state election.
One law that has raised particular concern — and even outrage — is California’s new law concerning child prostitution. The new law, SB 1322, prohibits police from arresting sex workers under the age of 18 for engaging in prostitution. Practically, this means that teenage girls and boys in California are free to have sex for money without facing prosecution.
No one would accuse the lawmakers of bad intentions. They certainly do not want to promote child prostitution. Under the new law, police who encounter minors selling themselves for sex are required to report the incident to the county child welfare agency. But, in fact, their inability to arrest the young person makes the young people even more vulnerable.
California state assemblyman Travis Allen has spoken out forcefully against the new law. He said, “…legalizing child prostitution will only incentivize the increased exploitation of underage girls. Immunity from arrest means law enforcement can’t interfere with minors engaging in prostitution — which translates into bigger and better cash flow for the pimps.”
Child prostitution is, in reality, the sex trafficking of girls and boys. And, the United States is one of the top destination points for victims of child trafficking and exploitation. Human trafficking has been reported in all 50 U.S. States. According to Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization, “the United States Department of Justice uses the number 293,000 as the estimate for youth ‘at risk’ of being commercially sexually exploited.”
Child prostitutes come from the country, inner cities, suburbs and small towns. They come from poor, middle class and sometimes wealthy families. Most young girls become involved in prostitution at the age of 14. And, there is an increasing number of young boys as well now exploited for sex. Some young people are forced into prostitution; others voluntarily sell their bodies for drugs, money or gifts.
The need to help these young people is real and pressing. No single law will change the situation. Certainly, laws in states like New York, Washington State and Massachusetts are helpful. They place the arrested youth in rehabilitation programs. Proper housing, substance abuse services, counseling and training are the answer. Not jail. Society has the obligation to care for and protect its most vulnerable, helping the wounded reclaim their lives.
Ultimately, the solution to the sex trafficking of our young goes beyond the law. It goes beyond the young people who sell themselves. It goes beyond prosecuting the adults who shamefully use these children for their own gratification. The law may prohibit evil deeds, but it is the heart that must be transformed.
Strong, loving families help prevent children from becoming recruits for this sordid business. If there were no market for this kind of trafficking, the young would be safer. If there were no adults seeking to profit from others and use others for their pleasure, our society would be providing a healthier environment for our children to mature. No law can legislate this. Only a society with a heart pure and clean, a heart centered on God can provide the best environment for its children. Laws can help. But, God alone heals our wounded nature.