Success and Impact

NCYL Helps Spur California Reforms To Recognize Exploitation As Abuse

Young person smiling with hair blowing in the wind

California took critical steps toward decriminalizing youth who have been impacted by Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) with the recent passage of a new law that the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) was instrumental in helping to develop.

The first, Senate Bill 855, was signed into law in June 2014, changing the law to explicitly recognizesCommercial Sexual Exploitation as a form of child abuse. Prior to the law, child welfare agencies did not recognize their role in serving youth who were commercially sexually exploited, and because of that, most youth faced arrest for prostitution and were routed through the juvenile justice system to access services.

A new approach

In addition to making clear that youth who experience CSE can be served by the child welfare system, rather than the juvenile justice system, SB 855 also created the CSEC Program, a $20 million ongoing funding stream for counties to develop and implement multidisciplinary approach to identify and serve young people impacted by exploitation..

The CSEC Program is optional, yet most counties in California have chosen to opt-in (47 of 58). In order to participate in the program counties must submit a multidisciplinary protocol. NCYL and the CSEC Action Team developed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) Template to support counties’ participation in the program. 

The signing of SB 855 into law marked an important step in the right direction toward treating child victims of CSE with a humane approach that values their health and wellbeing, rather than a punitive approach.