SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to support legislation aimed at closing a loophole in federal child sex trafficking laws and speeding 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 must have known the victim was a minor. The bill is also known as "Hazel's Law."
Under existing law, the trafficker's knowledge of the victim's age at the time the crime was committed is a major factor in determining the length of a sentence imposed, according to Supervisors Greg Cox and Dianne Jacob.
"These children have suffered enough," Cox said. "They shouldn't have to suffer more waiting for justice to be delivered."
The average age that girls become prostitutes in the United States is between 12 and 14 years old, and most are runaways, former foster youth or homeless, which make them prime targets for sex traffickers, according to the supervisors.
"Child predators target vulnerable youth who might have a history of problems or who have escaped a home of parental abuse and neglect," Cox said. "Through mind games and manipulation, these children are forced into the sex trade."
Cox and Jacob contend 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 at 17 was abducted by 41-year-old Maurice Lerome Smith of Oceanside and forced into prostitution.
"This wasn't an issue of prostitution or choice or drugs," Hazel told the board. "This was a snake in the grass -- and I got bit."
Hazel escaped and contacted law enforcement, but she said her abductor's prosecution was delayed for about six months 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.
"Supporting this law and getting it passed means that it won't be such a burden to prove it," Hazel said.
San Diego's other Democratic congressional members, Susan Davis and Scott Peters, are co-sponsors.
Supervisor Bill Horn said the punishment for convicted sex traffickers was not severe enough.
"These people are not redeemable, no matter how long the prison term is," Horn said. "Once they get involved in the sex trade, they're just not going to reform. It's a profitable business to them."
Hazel's Law is now before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.
"This is but another effort to tighten up those laws -- make them tougher for sex traffickers who are doing great harm to our young girls," Jacob said.
In other action, the supervisors Tuesday also approved in principle plans to demolish and rebuild the assessor/recorder/clerk's office in El Cajon.
A big cat enclosure at Lions, Tigers and Bears Animal Sanctuary in Alpine is almost finished. The multi-acre enclosure will be complete next week and will be home to three white lions among other big cats. News 8's photojournalist Colleen Murphy has a sneak peak of the new habitat.
It was another historically hot day in San Diego County, with several places breaking or tying all-time high temperature records.
A predawn blaze scorched two neighboring homes Friday morning in Chula Vista, but occupants in both houses escaped without injuries.
Richard Cordray, the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, resigned Friday and simultaneously named his own successor, setting up the consumer agency for another battle with the Trump White House over control of the powerful federal watchdog.
Retailers worked hard to attract shoppers to stores on Black Friday, offering in-person deals meant to counter the ease of shopping by phone on Amazon. A better economy and colder weather helped, to be sure.
President Donald Trump says he will be calling his Egyptian counterpart "in a short while" to discuss Friday's "tragic terrorist attack, with so much loss of life."
Lindsay Weiss once lost her cellphone and got it back, so she and a friend knew what they had to do when they discovered a camera during the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert — even though it meant giving up their coveted shady seat for a musical performance.
Everyone knows about the huge deals and savings available at the big-box retail stores, but you can make a real impact on our local economy by going on a small business shopping spree.
Two women were run over and pinned under a vehicle driven by a suspected drunken driver near Cowles Mountain in the San Carlos neighborhood today.
"Jury Duty", "Biodome", "Encino Man", "Son In Law" -- When you look back on these classics one man comes to mind: Pauly Shore.