California’s Nov. 6 ballot will present 11 propositions for voters to weigh in on, including Proposition 35, also known as the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act (CASE).
The proposition is intended to impose stricter penalties and higher fines on human trafficking offenders while, at the same time, offer greater protection to trafficking victims.
The official summary, prepared by the attorney general, makes multiple changes to existing state laws dealing with human trafficking including: a broader definition of human trafficking, an increase in punishments for offenders and a fine to compensate victims, changes in how evidence can be used against victims and an increase in law enforcement handling cases.
The proposition’s guidelines also requires sex offenders provide information regarding Internet access and identities they use in online activities.
The Trafficking Issue
The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), a Los Angeles based anti-human trafficking organization, reported that an estimated 12.3 million people are enslaved worldwide and approximately 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked through international borders every year, with a majority of trafficking victims being women and children. However, there has also been an increase in the exploitation of men.
The CIA estimates approximately 15,000 to 17,500 men, women and children are trafficked into the U.S. every year.
Los Angeles has become one of the most prevalent points of entry into America for trafficking victims with its proximity to international borders, high volume of ports and airports, substantial immigrant population and large economy.
Amy Dennison, sociology professor, said the media misrepresents human trafficking and sex trafficking as a problem that starts in poor countries and comes here.
“Poor countries merely create the supply for trafficking, but wealthy countries, like the United States, create the demand,” she said.
Existing State Law
Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that works to end modern day slavery, reported the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 was the first comprehensive federal legislation created to address human trafficking, with a notable focus on trafficking’s international aspect.
Since TVPA’s enactment, “Over $500 million has been spent or allocated for anti-trafficking programs with little success,” said Moshoula Desyllas, assistant sociology professor.
TVPA generally lists two types of trafficking: sex trafficking, in which victims are recruited, transported or obtained for commercial sex acts against their will; and labor trafficking, in which victims are recruited, transported or obtained to provide labor through the use of force.
TVPA has been reauthorized three times through the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), in 2003, 2005 and 2008. The TVPRA of 2011 was introduced in June of the same year and has yet to be passed by the Senate or House and signed by the president.
Proposition 35 requires that the money acquired from the increased fines would be used to support victim services for human trafficking survivors, 70 percent of which would go to public agencies and non-profits working with victims and the remaining 30 percent going to law enforcement and prosecution agencies.
If passed, law enforcement personnel will be required to receive two or more hours of training on how to deal with human-trafficking complaints. Training would have to be completed by July 1, 2014, or within six months of an officer’s field or investigative assignment, according to the official summary.
Arguments for the proposition have mainly centered on sex trafficking of women and children. Most notably was the testimonial of Leah Albright-Boyd, a human trafficking survivor, written in the voter guide.
“At 14, I ran away from a troubled home and into the clutches of a human trafficker,” wrote Boyd. “For years, I was trafficked and abused when I was still a child. As a survivor of trafficking, I’m asking Californians to stand against sexual exploitation.”
Other endorsements for the proposition say it will deter traffickers from committing human rights abuses by strengthening the current laws to incur harsher punishment for offenders and better protection for the victims.
Supporters include both the California Democratic and Republican parties, as well as the California Teachers Association, Planned parenthood Affiliates of California, the California Police Chiefs Association, Crime Victims United and the Human Rights Project for Girls and others.
Arguments against the proposition center mainly on the broader definition and the financial impact at state level. Opponents say the proposition threatens anyone receiving financial compensation from consensual prostitution who, under the new proposition, could be prosecuted as a human trafficker.
“If Proposition 35 passes, anyone receiving financial support from normal, consensual prostitution among adults could be prosecuted as a human trafficker,” said Desyllas in an email.
She said this would include a sex worker’s family, relatives, landlord and others close to them, and if caught would require them to register as a sex offender for life.
“I do not endorse stronger legislature or stricter penalties. What purpose will this serve and how will this support the actual individuals affected by trafficking?” Desyllas asked. “Any sort of policy pushed forward needs to focus on supporting victims of trafficking (not going after perpetrators), in all industries, not just the sex industry.”
The Los Angeles Times, in its official endorsement of Proposition 35 on Oct. 10, argued, “The state doesn’t lack for effective laws to combat trafficking. It is among 21 states that have passed significant anti-trafficking legislation. California and federal law today severely punish abduction and pimping of minors (and adults, for that matter), false imprisonment, forced labor and rape.”
Further arguments say the proposition will cost more than the increased fines will generate. Arguments presented in the official summary state that the act would cost the state “additional unspecified amounts,” and increase the workload for “already overburdened probation departments.”