Long Beach Press-Telegram

Oct 12, 2012   

Endorsement: Yes on Prop. 35 — Fight human trafficking in California with tougher penalties

California voters have a chance with Proposition 35 to stand tougher against some of the state’s most vile criminals — human traffickers who exploit women and children for their own financial gain. Prop. 35, on the Nov. 6 ballot, ensures that those who trade on human lives pay a high price with tough new sentencing guidelines and dramatic increases to fines.

Voters should give the initiative their support.

We’re talking about a brutal violation of basic human rights — women and children who are sold as modern-day slaves or forced to prostitute themselves. Human traffickers prey on women and children who run away, often from abusive homes, as well as immigrants who flee poverty for a better life only to find themselves being exploited and abused.

The underground nature of human trafficking makes collecting accurate data difficult, but the U.S. Department of Health and Service reports that trafficking is fast becoming one of the nation’s largest criminal enterprises. The anonymity and immediacy of the Internet has helped traffickers grow their operations, and the State Department estimated in 2010 there were as many as 12 million victims worldwide.

California is home to 37 million people — it stands to reason that a significant number of those victims are living among us. In fact, the FBI reports that three cities in California — Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco — are among the nation’s 13 highest child sex trafficking areas.

Yet the Legislative Analyst’s Office found only 18 convicted human traffickers in state prison when it crafted its independent analysis of Prop. 35. Clearly, there’s a disconnect between the number of victims and the prosecution of their abusers.

In fact, a 2011 study by Shared Hope International and American Center for Law and Justice gave California an “F” for its laws protecting women and children from exploitation. Prop. 35 would make up for that failing grade in a big way — by enacting some of the most severe penalties nationally for human traffickers.

Under current state law, traffickers can be sentenced up to 11 years for forcing victims to provide labor and services, and up to 14 years for the sex-trafficking of children. Prop. 35 doubles sentences for human trafficking, puts child sex-traffickers in prison for life, and permits fines up to $1.5 million.

Meanwhile, the initiative broadens protections for victims, especially those involved in prostitution. Most notably, a victim’s sexual history cannot be used against them in court to weaken the prosecution’s case.

Prop. 35 also mandates training for law enforcement to help authorities identify victims and apprehend traffickers.

The initiative is not without controversy. A sex-worker advocacy group is spearheading the opposition, arguing that people engaged in consenting sex-for-money exchanges will somehow be ensnared in the new law. That seems a big leap from the stated intent of Prop. 35, but one worth the consideration of authorities in selecting which cases to prosecute as true human-trafficking offenses.

A more practical and immediate concern for voters, however, is the fact that the cost of implementing the new law is not clearly defined. The LAO’s assessment predicts the initiative would cost the state not more than “a couple million” a year, while local jurisdictions would have a one-time expense of “up to a couple million” to provide the required training.

There’s no disputing California and its cities face huge budgetary uncertainties, but it would be callous and wrong to say such minimal costs are not worth incurring to protect some of the most vulnerable living among us.

Vote yes on Prop. 35.

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