No, California has not legalized child prostitution
A rumor that prostitution by minors will be legal in California from January has caused quite a stir on right-wing Twitter.
However the rumor relies on a shaky understanding of a law approved back in September by California (Dem.) Governor Jerry Brown.
The outrage started after the Washington Examiner published an article entitled "California Democrats legalize child prostitution."
"Beginning on Jan. 1, prostitution by minors will be legal in California. Yes, you read that right," it reads, before calling out progressive Democrats for approving "terribly destructive legislation."
The news spread on Twitter, with GOP accounts, conspiracy theorists, "deplorables," right-wing pundits, so-called "alt-right" personalities, and journalists expressing their indignation:
See how people reacted to this rumor on social media:
What the legislation actually says
So here's the thing.... Gov. Jerry Brown did approve legislation that decriminalises prostitution in the case of minors. In other words, it bans police from charging people under 18 with prostitution.
He also signed bills allowing people to defend themselves against additional criminal charges if they were coerced into committing an offense.
Other measures include raising the age that kids can testify outside a courtroom in human trafficking cases from 13 to 15, protecting victims' names from disclosure and ensuring that they have access to county services.
The law aims to protect, not criminalize
The law aims to protect children involved in sex trafficking and prostitution by treating them as victims, not criminals. That doesn't mean that child prostitution is now legal.
SB1233 (the legislation) doesn't say anywhere that Californians can now hire child prostitutes or that sex traffickers can freely prostitute kids.
In fact, soliciting sex from minors is still illegal and sex traffickers will also be held accountable for their crimes in California, as well as in the rest of the U.S.
As noted by Snopes, which first debunked these rumors in September, the California law is in line with the Department of Justice. "It is important to emphasize that the children involved are victims," it says. "Pimps and traffickers manipulate children by using physical, emotional, and psychological abuse to keep them trapped in a life of prostitution.