California voters are poised to pass Prop 35, a comprehensive state law to stop the human trafficking epidemic plaguing our state. Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. It’s a criminal business that profits from enslaving people, typically the most innocent and vulnerable, for sexual servitude and forced labor. It is outlawed in every country in this world, yet it happens in every country – including here in the United States in record and ever increasing numbers.
Human trafficking is a crisis occurring in our own backyard. California harbors three of the FBI’s 13 highest child sex trafficking areas in the nation. The victims are often girls, typically being recruited at 12 to 14 years old. They are enslaved and sexually exploited for the financial gain of the traffickers. Fueled by the Internet, sex trafficking is flourishing in California because profits are huge and laws are weak. Even gangs are getting involved because selling children is less risky and more profitable than selling drugs. Traffickers operate with near impunity while communities remain uninformed about the problem and law enforcement and service providers lack the tools they need to effectively respond.
We are a coalition of survivors, service providers, law enforcement, and prosecutors who understand how critically important Prop 35 is to California. We are joined by the California Democratic and Republican parties, numerous elected officials at all levels of government, a long list of survivors, service providers, members of the business and faith communities, and organizations representing nurses, women lawyers, teachers, parents, police chiefs, sheriffs, and over 90,000 rank and file peace officers in California.
A recent national study by a victims' rights group gave California an "F" grade for its weak laws dealing with child sex trafficking. California’s human trafficking law is simply not working. Since its enactment 6 years ago, only 18 offenders were convicted using it. In the same period of time, California arrested over 2600 minors – as young as 10 years old – for prostitution. Twelve percent of the minors were just 12 to 14 years old. These children are victims of manipulation and exploitation, who should be helped and not slapped with labels. Prop 35 acknowledges their victimization and shifts responsibility where it rightfully belongs – to the pimps and facilitators – the traffickers who profit from exploiting our children.
It fills in the gaps of existing laws that continue to make selling a child the most profitable and low risk crime in California.
Prop 35 will provide the following:
Tougher Sentences for Human Traffickers. Tough prison sentences will take traffickers off the streets and make enslaving human beings, particularly children, a risky criminal business. Prison terms will increase for all forms of human trafficking to match federal sentences. The current eight-year maximum sentence for trafficking of children will increase to life in prison. Prop 35 will also close the loopholes in the justice process that have enabled the traffickers to avoid convictions. These loopholes have caused children to continually fall through the cracks and back into the hands of the traffickers.
Protection for Victims. With Prop 35, children who are being sold are finally recognized as the victims. For too long, children have been treated like criminals by the court system while traffickers have escaped punishment. Prop 35 protects victims in the courtroom where, under the current law, their past sexual conduct can be used against them when they testify against their exploiters. Prop 35 provides trafficking victims the same level of protection rape victims have under the Rape Shield Law which prevents a victim’s sexual conduct from being admitted as evidence. It also removes the requirement to prove force, fraud or coercion to get a conviction in a child sex trafficking case. The fact that a person is selling a child for sex should be enough to show a human trafficking case.
Significantly Higher Fines for Victim Services. It is estimated that traffickers typically earn over $600,000 a year—tax free! Prop 35 will take the profits out of human trafficking by significantly increasing the fines (up to $1.5 million for selling a child for sex). Seventy percent of the fines collected will go to services that are essential for victims to recover from the trauma of human trafficking and successfully integrate back into the community. Most victims come from the foster system or from homes where they were seriously neglected or abused. They don’t have healthy, supportive environments to go home to. To recover, children need shelter, food and clothing and a loving, supportive environment. And these children in particular need counseling and therapy; health services; GED services; recreational programs; life skills development; financial literacy and employment preparation. Providing these services now will pay huge dividends in the future for the survivors and the community.
Safety from Sex Offenders. Prop 35 requires convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders and disclose their Internet accounts. We need to protect our children from traffickers who cruise the Internet just as we protect them from traffickers and child molesters who cruise the streets for children or loiter where children play. There are many precedents for restricting the movements and behaviors of convicts who pose a constant threat to children.
Law Enforcement Training. Prop 35 mandates at least two hours of training for all law enforcement personnel so they can learn the signs of human trafficking, identify and rescue the victims. Thirty percent of the fines will go to local law enforcement agencies for witness protection, prevention, and rescue efforts related to human trafficking.
Cost Value of Prop 35. The costs of Prop 35 will be negligible, especially when viewed long term. According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, costs are not likely to exceed a couple of million annually to state and local governments for criminal justice activities. Potential one-time costs to local governments, up to a few million statewide, and lesser additional costs incurred each year due to law enforcement training requirements could be offset by the heavier fines imposed on convicted traffickers. The fines will also generate new funds to pay for the vital services necessary to help survivors recover, build new lives, and become contributing members of the community. Further, law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and social services will see savings through vast reductions in future arrests and broken lives.
Vote Yes on Prop 35. For more information about Prop 35, readers can go to www.VoteYesOn35.com. The thousands of Californians who have already decided to vote “Yes” on Prop 35 believe we can win this battle to protect the most innocent and vulnerable of our citizens and ensure that the traffickers pay a heavy price for their actions in fines and prison time. We all have a moral obligation to the victims and a powerful tool in the ballot process to make a statement that the brutal crime of human trafficking will not be tolerated in our state.
Sharmin Bock, veteran prosecutor and national human trafficking expert
Amy Andrews, survivor of human trafficking, San Bernardino
Brian R Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association
Carissa Phelps, attorney, crisis counselor, author, survivor of human trafficking, Fresno
D’Lita Miller, mother of survivor of human trafficking, trainer and lecturer on human trafficking, Orange County
Dellena Hoyer, counselor, survivor of human trafficking, Sacramento
Leah Albright-Byrd, executive director of Bridget’s Dream, survivor of human trafficking, Sacramento
Linda Smith (U.S. Congress 1995-99), Founder and President, Shared Hope International
Marc Klaas, President of the KlaasKids Foundation
Melinda and Gary Griffith, parents of survivor of human trafficking, Stockton
Mike Ramos, District Attorney, San Bernardino County
Nancy O’Malley, District Attorney, Alameda County
Ron Cottingham, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California
Ryan Cantrell, police officer, specialized in human trafficking cases
Sarai Theolinda S. Mazariegos, Program Director of DreamCatcher, survivor of human trafficking
Susan Munsey, LCSW, Executive Director of GenerateHope, San Diego
Chris Kelly, former Chief Privacy Officer, internet privacy and safety expert, founder Safer California Foundation
Daphne Phung, founder and executive director of California Against Slavery