Attitudes toward any sexual behavior involving minors are very intolerant. However, minors account for 12% of all rape incidents and 19% of all other sex crimes are against minors, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency.1
California law has historically shown a similar attitude towards minors, especially those who engage in prostitution, by prosecuting them and considering them juvenile delinquents. In fact, between 2000 and 2010, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed 2,188 petitions against minors caught soliciting or loitering for solicitation.2 Until now, these children, many of whom are forced into prostitution by abusers and pimps, were given no legs in their fight against sex traffickers.
The First Step Diversion Program, which was recently announced by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, will provide vital social services to teen victims of sex trafficking while aiming to clear their criminal records within one year, if they complete the program. The goal is to recognize that child and teen prostitutes are often victims, not offenders, as they have been forced into this helpless situation and need to be rehabilitated instead of detained.
How Did it Start?
The idea of treating teen prostitutes as victims rather than criminals is relatively new. In 2008, Alameda County launched a pilot program that sent teens who were sexually exploited to counseling and treatment programs, while also mandating that prosecutors receive training on issues relating to child prostitution.
Groups such as the Child Advocacy Institute felt that simply adding rehabilitation to a convicted teen prostitute’s criminal sentence was not enough. They argued that under the law, juveniles are considered too young to consent to sexual relations with adults in cases of statutory rape. Therefore, it did not make legal sense to prosecute these minors as adult criminals for taking money in exchange for sex.3
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jacky Lacey unveiled the new innovative diversion program for these young victims on February 12, 2014. This program will give incentive to these minors to partake in empowering rehabilitation programs, while legally treating them as victims rather than criminals.
First Step Diversion Program – The Details
Children and teens who are arrested for prostitution now have an alternative to facing prosecution and criminal charges that will negatively impact the rest of their lives. The program will provide several services to minors who agree to enter it, including:
- Sexual assault counseling;
- Mental health counseling;
- Substance abuse counseling;
- Crisis intervention;
- and Education services.
These programs have been implemented with the help of four non-profit organizations – the YWC Greater Los Angeles, Saving Innocence, Valley Trauma Center in Van Nuys, and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking. If minors successfully complete a one-year program of rehabilitation and counseling, their criminal record will be cleared.
In order to identify children under the age of 18 who are facing these difficult circumstances, the District Attorney’s Office is teaming up with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, the county Probation Department, and the Department of Children and Family Services.4 Together, they will determine which minors are eligible for this alternative to prosecution based on his or her prior offenses and background.
First Step will begin in the Sylmar and Compton Juvenile Division branch offices. These locations were chosen because of the high volume of arrests of minors for prostitution. Vice officers are currently being trained to screen victims and identify which ones are eligible to enter the program.
Why First Step?
With these new legal changes, it is important to know that minors now have support in their fight to escape their abusers. The First Step Diversion Program gives them the opportunity to escape prostitution and engage in social services that can positively change the course of their lives.
District Attorney Lacey understands that minors who engage in prostitution are often vulnerable youth who are abused, neglected, have drug problems, or come from broken homes and are targets of pimps and sexual abusers. These children and teens are finally viewed as victims, rather than criminals in the eyes of the law, and are given the chance to rebuild their lives by clearing their arrest record.
Call the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today
If you are a minor accused of a sex crime, it will impact the rest of your life. It is important to know the details of this new diversion program and the opportunities it provides to clear your arrest. The attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have been successfully defending our clients accused of sex crimes for over 30 years.
With offices located in Orange County, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Torrance, Riverside, West Covina, Victorville, Ventura, San Diego and Sherman Oaks, Wallin & Klarich has an established reputation of providing its clients with 24/7 support.
Call us today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.