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Vote Yes on Prop 35 to Stop Human Trafficking in California

Helping You Make an Informed Choice by Sharmin Bock. Visit VoteYesOn35.com.

 

Helping you make an informed choice
by Sharmin Bock

As a prosecutor who has spent over a decade fighting human trafficking, I’ve seen the terrible human toll of sex trafficking in California. Every day, women and children are forced to sell their bodies, on the streets and online, for the financial gain of human traffickers.

I have helped to create and lead the first of its kind unit in the nation dedicated to recovering sexually exploited children and prosecuting those who profit from selling them.  Since 2006, this unit has prosecuted over 200 sex traffickers and supported the rescue of hundreds of children, some as young as 11 years old.

While our efforts have made a difference, we could’ve saved and prevented many more. California’s current laws are simply inadequate to confront the growing problem of human trafficking within our state.  A recent national study by a victims' rights group gave California an "F" grade for its weak laws dealing with child sex trafficking.  Prop 35 eliminates the shortcomings of our existing law that is riddled with gaping loopholes through which children literally fall into the hands of traffickers waiting to profit from them.

Drug dealers, gangs and organized crime are moving into sex trafficking because the current penalties present very low risk for them.  Grotesquely, they realize that there is no better investment than selling children these days because the profit is high and risk is low. And while children and girls are increasingly sold online, current laws against sexual exploitation have not been updated to face 21st century realities. As a 23-year veteran prosecutor and proud Californian, I know we can do better.

That’s why I teamed up with advocates for victims to write Prop 35.  The language of Prop 35 is carefully written to confront the growing problem of human trafficking in our state.  It uses federal law as a guideline and draws on the first-hand experience of prosecutors and those who work to help victims.  For too long, victims have been mistreated while traffickers escape punishment.  Prop 35 protects victims in so many ways and, for the first time, clearly recognizes sex trafficking victims as victims and not “prostitutes.”

Prop 35 makes critical changes to California law by:

  • Increasing prison terms for all forms of human trafficking to match federal sentences.
  • Requiring convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders.
  • Requiring all registered sex offenders to disclose their internet accounts, as states such as New York already have.
  • Requiring criminal fines from convicted human traffickers to fund services to help victims.
  • Mandating human trafficking training for law enforcement.
  • Providing trafficking victims the same level of protection rape victims have under the Rape Shield Law.
  • Removing the requirement to prove force, fraud or coercion in a child sex trafficking case.

After so many years of working to stop human trafficking and strengthen our laws against this crime, it is a dream come true to see a comprehensive measure like Prop 35 on the ballot. There’s no doubt that Prop 35, once passed, will save lives. That’s why the measure has widespread, bipartisan support from survivors, anti-trafficking advocates, women’s rights groups, child advocates, faith-based organizations to major law enforcement organizations, lawmakers, and prosecutors.

The changes embedded in Prop 35 will save lives and taxpayer resources. You may have some questions about Prop 35.  Here are some answers to the questions we hear most often so you can make an informed choice.

Isn’t human trafficking just an international issue?

Many think that human trafficking is a third world problem.  But from my vantage point in the trenches, I can tell you that it’s a universal crisis occurring in our own backyard.  Domestic trafficking is no less serious when international borders are not crossed.  The risk and harm to a child is the same whether she is trafficked from China or within California, where the FBI has identified San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego as high intensity child sex trafficking areas. Prop 35 allows us to protect all children here in California.

What will Prop 35 cost?

The costs of Prop 35 are negligible.  The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) has reported Prop 35 will have a “minor increase in state and local criminal justice costs from increased penalties” and there would be potential one-time local costs of up to a few million statewide for police training. On the other hand, Prop 35 will generate new funds through criminal fines to pay for victims’ services to help survivors recover and become vital members of our communities.

The benefit of rescuing and healing our children far exceeds the very small expense associated with Prop 35. Moreover, helping survivors turn their lives around will pay dividends for generations. When exploited girls and boys are assisted, the criminal justice system will see savings through vast reductions in future arrests and burdens on the courts.  Given how strong and clear Prop 35 is, I predict that we will also see a reduction in trafficking in our state. Trafficking will no longer be easy money and convicted traffickers will be required to forfeit their assets.

The savings are huge, and will spare children yet not enslaved. 

Would Prop 35 criminalize consensual behavior?

Absolutely not. Human trafficking entails profiting from the sexual exploitation of a child (who cannot legally consent to sexual conduct) or the use of force, fraud and coercion to compel an adult into forced labor or commercial sex acts against his/her will.  Prop 35 is narrowly tailored and specifically states that there must be criminal intent to violate the law.  Prop 35 not only requires the showing that the trafficker causes a child “to engage in a commercial sex act”  but also “with the intent to effect or maintain a violation of Section,” and it lists 12 different existing criminal sections in our state law.

Human trafficking is a brutal and clearly delineated crime that involves and requires proof of the criminal intent to exploit another human being for profit. Prop 35 is not something that could ever be triggered by mistake.

Prop 35 does not impact prostitution involving consensual adults. There are laws on the books against prostitution, but Prop 35 only covers cases where traffickers profit from the sexual exploitation of a child or the forced exploitation of an adult.

Why not address this in the Legislature?

Every year for the past five years, along with many others, I’ve been in Sacramento trying to improve our state’s human trafficking law. For instance, I worked on a bill that would update our anti-trafficking law to the national standard by removing the need to prove force in child sex trafficking cases. This bill was introduced three times, and died three times. However, the exact language of this bill, which sailed through the Assembly without any opposition, is now contained in Prop 35.

While our legislators have made commendable incremental progress, our laws are still inadequate. Californians simply cannot afford to let another day go by without a comprehensive human trafficking law that protects victims and those at risk within our own state.

Does Prop 35 broaden the definition of human trafficking?

The only change that Prop 35 makes to the current definition of human trafficking is the expansion of the list of trafficking violations to include the production of child pornography. However, the distribution of child pornography would only be included if the distributor specifically caused the child to engage in the sexual act, such as if a trafficker is attempting to sell children online by making them appear in a pornographic video. There are laws on the books to fight the possession and distribution of child pornography, and Prop 35 will not augment them.  Other than this specific change, Prop 35 does not change the categories of violations currently listed in state law. The measure clarifies the definition of coercion by mirroring the definition in the federal law.

Does Prop 35 unfairly limit the ability of accused traffickers to defend themselves in court?

No. Prop 35 simply levels the playing field for victims who can currently be intimidated out of their rights.  The measure provides trafficked victims the same level of protection that rape victims currently receive under the Rape Shield Law.  Like the federal human trafficking law, Prop 35 removes the requirement to prove force in child sex trafficking cases. Prop 35 provides victims with evidentiary protection when testifying against their traffickers. Specifically, evidence that the victims engaged in a commercial sex act (such as prostitution) as a result of being a victim of human trafficking cannot be used to prosecute them. Victims will be able to face their exploiters in a court of law without fear of prosecution, and defendants will maintain the right to mount a full defense in court.

Final Thoughts

Prop 35 gives prosecutors, police and advocates the tools we need to fight this very important fight. Prop 35 is a comprehensive and effective response to an epidemic that plagues our state and must be stopped in order to protect our children from what is – no matter how you look at it – modern day slavery. When Prop 35 passes, we will have the clearest and best human trafficking law in the country. I predict that traffickers will flee as fast as possible from our state.  By voting yes on Proposition 35, you will have done your very best to protect our state’s most precious resource, our children.

Let’s send a clear message that California does not tolerate the sexual exploitation of women and children. Please Vote Yes on 35 this November. 

Visit VoteYesOn35.com.

About Sharmin Bock

Sharmin Bock is a 23-year veteran prosecutor in California and a nationally recognized leader on cutting edge criminal prosecutions including DNA cold cases and human exploitation and trafficking.  Sharmin was recognized as Woman of the Year by the California State Legislature and awarded the prestigious Fay Stender Award by the California Women Lawyers. Sharmin was a candidate for San Francisco District Attorney in 2011.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

David September 29, 2012 at 05:39 AM
1) Don't we already have laws against pimping? slavery? kidnapping? false imprisonment (state and federal)? 2) If this exact text has already "sailed" through the Assembly, what's holding it up? The Proposition appears to be unnecessary. I'm opposed to unnecessary or duplicative laws.
Rosario Cas September 30, 2012 at 12:52 AM
What a great and clear explanation for those who need clarification on such a complex issue. We can only hope that everyone working on this issue is as passionate and detailed as Sharmin Bock. Survivors like Carissa Phelps(attorney), Leah Albright-Byrd(Masters Degree in counseling), and Dellena Hoyer(Drugg Addict Counselor) all AGREE YES on 35!!!
Kath Rogers October 01, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Great article Sharmin! I will be voting Yes on Prop 35 to help curb human trafficking in CA.
Hope Francis October 01, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Anyone who has carefully read Sharmin Bock's article should be able to understand the importance of stronger laws against human trafficking. Traffickers are enslaving children, raking in huge profits and operating with near impunity because current laws are not effective enough to discourage and there are too many loop holes in the justice system to obtain convictions. If you're not convinced by the district attorney's experience, you might contact some of the many law enforcement organizations who have endorsed Prop 35 for the same reasons M. Bock presents. Law enforcement professional have made it clear they are dealing with the problems every day and are counting on Prop 35 to help them do there jobs, protect the victims and put away the traffickers for a long time.
David October 01, 2012 at 06:00 PM
The Sac Bee and plenty of other editorials lay out the reasons to vote against Prop 35. It's poorly written, and "enslaving" anyone is already against the law, as is prostitution, pimping, kidnapping etc.
Dalamar October 01, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Here is an informative link. If anyone hasn't seen the full description of prop 35, this shows everything prop 35 will do. It also includes arguments from supporters and opponents. California Proposition 35, Ban on Human Trafficking and Sex ... ballotpedia.org/.../California_Proposition_35,_Ban_on_Human_Traf...
John October 02, 2012 at 05:17 PM
I was inclined to vote for this until a number of organizations that work with victims of human trafficking came out against it. And while it's easy to be "tough on crime" by supporting Prop. 35, I trust these non-profit working with trafficking victims more than the politicians and law enforcement officials and organizations that support Prop. 35. Here's an article that details some of those concerns: http://www.mercurynews.com/elections/ci_21594453/victims-advocates-oppose-prop-35-human-trafficking-measure
Kath Rogers October 02, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Hi John - just about every victims services group in the state support Prop 35. Take a look at the huge list of service providers on the Yes on Prop 35 website - I work with people everyday who help victims and they are all supporting Yes on Prop 35. Here's the link: www.voteyeson35.com
Mudra October 02, 2012 at 08:59 PM
We have California's AB 22 for human trafficking, but this law which only sentences traffickers between 3-8 years does not reflect the severity of the crime. Prop. 35 increases penalties 15-to life for forced minors. This is not a duplicative law and is absolutely necessary to protect victims of this horrendous crime
Karla Wray October 03, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Seriously! Maybe the opposition of protection to individuals should be the crime we punish. This is very disturbing. It is also disturbing how many men secretly harbor a fascination with exploiting children in some way.
David October 03, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Then the legislature can easily change the penalty. It's seems the Assembly would be amenable to that, and so would the Senate in all likelihood. Why re-write all of the laws when you're only concerned about the sentencing? It's unnecessary. As a rule, I'm against all unnecessary propositions and have been since moving here and seeing that idiotic ban on horsemeat proposition pass.
Andrew Kopp October 03, 2012 at 07:56 PM
I think that it is dangerous to conclude that because a person opposes a particular ballot measure that person opposes the goals of those that propose the ballot measure. That kind of litmus test has never served us well. I believe that everyone who is not engaged in human trafficking is opposed to human trafficking. The question is not one of support or opposition to the practice, but how best to prohibit the practice. I was listening to a KQED discussion of the measure and was struck by the possibility of the very victims of trafficking being exposed to greater penalties by virtue of association with other prostitutes. For instance, if two prostitutes work together, such that one drives the other to the location where the act will occur, the one doing the driving could be charged with trafficking. Is that what we want to punish? Is that who we want to punish? I found a very thoughtful analysis of the bill here: http://www.orangejuiceblog.com/2012/07/i-despise-human-trafficking-but-i-oppose-the-badly-drafted-prop-35/ Remember, the devil is in the details. A bad bill for a good reason is still a bad bill.
Sean October 04, 2012 at 06:06 PM
I read that blog. The author Greg Diamond builds his case around an extremely contrived scenario--really just a scare tactic to alarm people into voting no. He also says things like "This bill is written for a world in which underage persons have no agency when it comes to prostitution, because of the fiction that they have no legally recognizable will." Translation: Greg Diamond doesn't think that statutory rape is legitimate rape. NEXT!
Renae Wilber October 05, 2012 at 05:19 AM
Unfortunately Sharmin, too many people live in the narrow confinements of cubicles and naivety, lacking the necessary empathy to understand the protection needed for victims. They have been protected from the ills of society, but you have seen firsthand the savage of monsters who prey on the innocent. Thank you for your hard work on a bill that needs to be passed. Anything to protect the innocent, particularly the children.
Nancy Smith October 08, 2012 at 03:07 PM
I'll be voting YES! Whatever laws are in place clearly aren't enough. And 3-5 years with sentances reduced due to overcrowding is a joke. I personally know young women who have been sucked into this life and they are terrified of these pimps/traffickers who will kill women who try to get away to show others they can't escape. It's a very violent and torturous exsistance. There can't be enough laws to stop this criminal and perverted activity. Yes, any male opposing this type of legislation makes me wonder why...hmmm. And the johns need to be dealt with next. No demand, the supply will not be needed. Other countries who have stiff penalties or expose Johns' arrests publically experience a huge decline in prostitution. This needs to happen here in this country but whenever I mention that to most men, the conversation goes cold...we know men are buying these women and children at an alarming rate apparently, so it only makes sense that this leg of the trafficking table needs to be addressed as well. Why isn't it?
Michael Austin October 08, 2012 at 03:43 PM
@Sharmin Bock, are you aware of any human trafficing in Pleasanton California? If you are, would you please detail them here?
David October 08, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Yes, because there's never a legitimate reason to oppose superfluous laws. This is really something that requires amending the California Constitution? The State Senate/Assembly can't change the penalties for violating existing laws? We really need an entire added layer of laws and penalties?
Rosario Cas October 11, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Unlike current law, the CASE Act defines the creation, distribution and/or duplication of lewd materials depicting minors as human trafficking and therefore punishable under said law. The measure also changes court proceedings involving underage victims; such as banning arguments claiming the defendant was unaware of the victim's age. As for criminal penalties imposed on convicted offenders, victim restitution fines would increase from up to $100,000 for the sex trafficking of a minor to $1.5 million for all human trafficking offenses; prison terms would also increase and, in some cases involving minors, be punishable by life imprisonment. The measure also requires registered sex offenders, including those convicted of human trafficking crimes, to annually report all personal Internet Service Provider accounts and internet identifiers including, amongst others, social networking sites, chat rooms and email addresses. Crime Victims United of California (CVUC) urges a "YES" vote on Proposition 35.
Californicated1 October 11, 2012 at 07:01 PM
There is a YouTube video out there with computer grafics and it explains why Proposition 35 should be voted "No" on just like all the other propositions on the ballot these days. It looks like it is done by the same folks who do the computer graphics reproduction of news events that were seen in recent years on Taiwanese TV. I am not going to post the link here because it might not be safe for work or for those who have children perusing this site. But once you are YouTube, do a word search for "Prop 35 Bad for the Body Bad for the Brain Bad for Everyone" And that should also aid in your decision-making when it comes to vote on this issue on your ballots.
Californicated1 October 11, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Sorry for the typo in "grafics", as you can see further down in the paragraph, I know how to spell the word, but for some reason I can't edit as good as I spell.
Rosario Cas October 12, 2012 at 06:59 AM
Hey John, It looks like 1 organization is represented in the article you point to. Also, the fact that almost all law enforcement associations in the state support PROP35 shows that they are flexible regarding mandatory training regarding human trafficking. Not all cops flip-flop like John Vanek. Interesting that a former law enforcement guy like himself would not mind being "championed" on Adult & Exotic Services website as their hero. Anyhow, read this article and see why you should be weary of naysayers. http://sanleandro.patch.com/blog_posts/vote-yes-on-prop-35-to-stop-human-trafficking-in-california-wwwvoteyeson35com
meka thompson October 27, 2012 at 01:27 AM
David let your daughter or granddaughter be forced into trafficking I bet you would change your mind then!

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