Punishments Increased For Prostitution-Related Offenses

Board Votes For Stronger Punishments For Pimping, Pandering, Human Trafficking

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to support efforts to strengthen punishments for pimping, pandering and human trafficking.

The board voted to sponsor state legislation on two related ideas that would enhance punishments for prostitution-related offenses.

The first would add pimping, pandering and human trafficking to a list in the state penal code that defines criminal street gangs. That definition can then be used to enhance penalties for convicted offenders.

The second would enhance punishment for people convicted of prostitution-related offenses within 1,000 feet of schools.

Criminal street gangs have embraced pimping as "the new crack," rivaling drug sales as one of their major sources of funding, according to Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

Law enforcement officials have noticed a growing trend of pimping in and around schools, and new gangs have formed to profit from prostitution, she said.

"These new measures will be a significant tool for law enforcement to be able to pick up gang members who are soliciting and pimping young girls," she said.

San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Gretchen Means, who works in the Sex Crimes Unit, said gangs are increasingly involved in pimping.

"They are traditional street gang members that are re-configured into new gangs solely to pimp," she said.

Authorities said sometimes the pimps pretend at first to be boyfriends. They then keep the girls through intimidation and threats of violence. The girls are recruited at schools and on the Internet, and Means said the girls are from all over the county.

"Girls from good homes that are lured into the game with the false promises of a pimp," said Means.

Jacob conceded that the county will have to get the proposals through the state Legislature.

"That's going to be an uphill battle," she said. "It will be tough to get a new initiative to pass."

But despite the potential for future struggles with the state, Jacob said she was optimistic.

"Hopefully the vote today will someday put an end to these horrific acts in San Diego County," she said.

The average age a girl enters prostitution is 12, authorities said.

Susan Munsey, who directs a group called Generate Hope, said, "There is anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder at a level that’s equal to Vietnam Vets."

Munsey's group provides housing, food and education for young women who were sexually exploited.

Munsey said the pimps treat the young women not as people, but as possessions, and added, "They’re often tattooed, branded with the man’s name on them, as property."

The definition of gang activity would lead to tougher penalties and higher bail. Jacob said it would also help police.

"Provide law enforcement with the additional tools to attack prostitution, such as the use of wiretaps," said Jacob.

San Diego ranked 8th in the nation in child prostitution, according to the latest FBI statistics.