The Bakersfield Californian

Oct 12, 2012   

Prop. 35 fights human trafficking

Human trafficking, primarily sex slavery, is a growing problem worldwide, and not just in places like India and Thailand. It’s happening here in California, but our laws and law enforcement practices have yet to catch up.

Proposition 35 would help change that by stiffening penalties for traffickers and imposing fines that would support victims and law enforcement. The initiative would increase prison terms for trafficking from the current five years to 12 years, or 15 years to life if the crime involves minors. Fines could be as high as $1.5 million.

According to FBI data, Los Angeles, San Diego and the Bay Area have been recognized as high-intensity child sex trafficking areas. Yet just 18 people have been convicted under existing law for that crime. The FBI is largely responsible for trafficking investigations, but it tends to focus on large rings that cover multiple jurisdictions. But trafficking is a local problem, too. Here in Bakersfield, minors have advertised for sex on websites like Craigslist.

In addition to requiring convicted traffickers to register as sex offenders, Prop. 35 also requires them to provide law enforcement with information on their Internet identities and accounts. It’s similar to a law adopted in New York state intended to combat trafficking. While the law there has yet to garner many convictions, it has been credited with helping law enforcement receive training and better identify trafficking in individual communities. This process takes time, advocates say, comparing it to the way domestic violence was handled three decades ago. Many local agencies just don’t know the signs of exploitation or ask the right questions.

It’s hard to advocate for broader laws when California is in the midst of a prison crisis, but human trafficking, particularly in the sex trade, is a problem that can’t be ignored. The lives of vulnerable women and children are at stake. The law lays the foundation to better equip authorities with tools to root out these cases, eventually resulting in swifter apprehension and harsher punishment for the perpetrators.

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