SAN DIEGO – The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is scheduled today to consider supporting congressional legislation that would close a loophole in federal child sex trafficking laws and speed up prosecution of suspects.
The Child Protection Act of 2013, authored by Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, would remove a requirement that the alleged trafficker knew the victim was a minor. The bill is also known as ”Hazel’s Law.”
Currently, the trafficker’s knowledge of the victim’s age at the time the crime was committed is a major factor in whether he receives a longer or shorter sentence, according to a memo by Supervisors Greg Cox and Dianne Jacob.
The supervisors said the average age that females become prostitutes in the U.S. is between 12 and 14 years old. Most are runaways, former foster youth or homeless, which make them prime targets for sex traffickers, they said.
Cox and Jacob said prosecution of alleged child sex traffickers is frequently delayed because law enforcement has to spend time looking for evidence that they knew their victims’ ages.
”Hazel’s Law” is named after a San Diegan identified as Hazel C., who the supervisors said was abducted by 41-year-old Maurice Lerome Smith of Oceanside and forced into prostitution.
Hazel escaped and contacted law enforcement, but the prosecution of Smith was delayed while investigators tried to prove he knew her age. The proof was eventually found, and the defendant was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison, the supervisors said.
”In the case of Mr. Smith, had Hazel’s Law been in effect at the time of Hazel’s abduction, the federal trial to prosecute Mr. Smith on charges of child abduction would have been streamlined to ensure a quicker trial by not having to prove Mr. Smith’s knowledge of Hazel’s status as a minor at the time of abduction,” Cox and Jacob wrote.
San Diego’s other Democratic congress members, Susan Davis and Scott Peters, are co-sponsors.
Hazel’s Law is now before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.
The supervisors will also consider plans to demolish and rebuild the assessor/recorder/clerk’s office in El Cajon, and whether to streamline the county adoption process.