Calling it heinous, the Long Beach City Council Tuesday authorized staff to lobby the state Legislature for harsher penalties against those who use child prostitutes.
The city will now lobby the Legislature to increase penalties for those who have sex with minors, rather than the girls themselves.
In the hope that the state Legislature would see fit to make it a felony to have sex with underage prostitutes, the city council voted to ask the state to also impose higher fines, seize assets and require that "johns" register as sex offenders.
According to Long Beach police Chief Jim McDonnell, there have been eight cases of sex trafficking to date this year.
The chief said police "rescued" 17 women or girls; 14 of those were juveniles, he told the council.
Of 10 suspects arrested for allegedly trafficking the women, eight of them were gang members.
The youngest prostitute was 14 years old, the chief said.
Proponents of making it a felony to have sex with minors in a prostitution setting -- it is already a felony to have sex with a minor in a non-transactional setting -- said that gang members are increasingly flocking to the human trafficking trade.
It is more prolific than drugs, the chief told the council.
Pimps get about $500 a night per prostitute; every pimp has several women or girls working at a time.
There is a high demand for underage prostitutes, the chief said.
And currently, the penalties for drug trafficking are harsher than those for human trafficking, proponents of stiffer penalties contend.
According to the staff report, law enforcement authorities traditionally have punished the prostitutes, who often are victimized by those who make them sell their bodies by force, fear, duress and dependance.
Pimps prey on those most vulnerable, such as runaways from their homes or from the foster care system, with nowhere to go, according to the chief.
McDonnell also asked the council to allow overtime for officers to more aggressively seek out offenders, both pimps and johns.
The city manager was also directed to work with the health department on some sort of educational program for the public as well.