Redding Record Searchlight

Oct 12, 2012   

Prop. 35: Sound steps to combat human trafficking

You’d like to think that in 21st-century America, human trafficking and sex slavery — buying and selling human beings — would be the kind of thing we’d read about in history books or news reports from distant continents.

Sadly, you’d be wrong. And indeed California is a major center of this vile trade.

Thanks to the state’s large immigrant population and its links to diverse foreign countries, California has become home to all too many criminals who exploit the vulnerable — workers smuggled into the United States, who have no papers and speak no English. The lucky might end up living in squalor and pressed into factory labor. Others are forced into prostitution, often as teenagers.

Nor is this merely a problem of immigrants. Homeless youths and runaways are especially vulnerable to exploitation. And Shared Hope International, a Christian-oriented nonprofit that fights child sex trafficking, argues that the victims in these cases all too routinely are made the criminals when they’re arrested for prostitution, while their abusers go free.

Proposition 35, on the November ballot, aims to tame this quiet scourge through multiple paths. It would increase the state’s criminal penalties for trafficking, largely to match federal law. It would protect victims from criminal prosecution on prostitution or similar charges and remove the requirement that prosecutors prove that force was involved in cases of sex trafficking of minors. It would devote fines collected from traffickers to services for their victims. And it would require law-enforcement training about human trafficking.

This is sensible stuff, so why hasn’t the Legislature acted? The initiative’s boosters point to the difficulty, given chronic prison overcrowding, of increasing sentences, despite the severity of the crime. And the initiative itself, they argue, amounts to an awareness campaign. The problem is real, and we shouldn’t look away. In that regard, it’s working.

Proposition 35 will help protect the exploited and punish latter-day slavers. It deserves a “Yes” vote.

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