(KTXL) — Law enforcement officials from Sacramento County and other agencies announced Friday morning that a days-long operation this month against human trafficking and childhood prostitution in the county resulted in the rescue of three adolescents, the arrest of several accused traffickers, and dozens of citations against sex buyers.
Officials said that two 16-year-old girls and a 14-year-old girl were rescued, and that investigators found an online sex advertisement for one of the older teenagers from two years ago when she was also 14 years old.
Sheriff Jim Cooper and District Attorney Thien Ho said at the Friday morning news conference that specific laws from the state Legislature were impeding law enforcement’s ability to combat human trafficking.
“The laws they have passed have enabled the pimps and traffickers to do their business unimpeded,” Cooper said.
The two county officials referenced Senate Bill 1322 from 2016 and Senate Bill 357 from 2021, saying these laws hamper their efforts.
SB 1322 made it so that a minor engaged in commercial sexual activity could not be arrested for prostitution and said that a law enforcement officer who sees a minor engaged in a commercial sexual act should report it to county social services as abuse or neglect.
SB 1322 also said that a commercially sexually exploited child may be “adjudged a dependent child of the juvenile court and taken into temporary custody to protect the minor’s health or safety.”
SB 357 repealed an existing law that made “loitering with the intent to commit prostitution… or directing, supervising, recruiting, or aiding a person who is loitering with intent to commit prostitution” a misdemeanor.
California Senator Scott Weiner, the author of SB 357, stood by both laws.
“These are incredibly important reforms so that we are not giving criminal records to sex workers or human trafficking victims,” Weiner said. “Let’s be clear, what the sheriff and others are advocating for is to literally arrest and give an arrest record and a criminal record to people they’re saying are victims.”
Cooper referenced the two laws, saying that they limited investigators’ ability to speak with the victims of human trafficking in order to gather evidence against their true target, the traffickers.
“We want to get the traffickers, but we need to talk with the victims to get to the traffickers,” Cooper said.
Officials said that during the operation, 31 sex buyers were cited and that undercover detectives conducted hundreds of online chats with potential sex buyers.
65 sex workers were also cited and there were several arrests regarding a stolen vehicle, two arrests in connection with the sale of cocaine, and three firearms were seized, officials said.