Vallejo Times Herald

Oct 18, 2012   

‘Yes’ on 35: A despicable practice that we can stop

Virtually all Californians oppose human trafficking. The question raised by Proposition 35 is whether California law should be broadened and strengthened to deter the despicable practice.

The language of the ballot measure is modeled in part on 2007 legislation in New York. It isn’t perfect, but it’s far better than current law, which clearly isn’t working. California has only 18 inmates in its state prisons who have been convicted of human trafficking, yet the FBI has identified Los Angeles, San Diego and the Bay Area as three of the highest-intensity child sex trafficking areas in the nation. Voters should approve Proposition 35 in November.

Proponents tried to get this law passed in Sacramento, but they failed because of concerns that it would increase prison costs. However, the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office put the projected fiscal impact of Proposition 35 at “a couple million dollars annually,” a pittance for the human suffering and indignity it can prevent.

The measure would expand the definition of human trafficking and significantly increase the punishment. Offenses that now bring five-year sentences would go to 12 years, 20 years or even life, depending on circumstances. It would require training for law enforcement and allocate fines paid by perpetrators to fund services for victims of sexual exploitation: The measure’s intent is to target pimps rather than the vulnerable women and children they enslave.

One critical element in evaluating a proposition is who’s supporting and opposing it. Proposition 35 has the support of more than 90 law enforcement agencies and organizations up and down the state as well as bipartisan support from elected officials. The California Republican Party and the California Democratic Party, which these days agree about as often as Paul Ryan and Joe Biden, both are for Proposition 35.

The leading opponent and co-author of the official ballot argument against the proposition is Maxine Doogan, president of the Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project. Enough said.

The New York legislation has been slow to make a difference in fighting human trafficking, but over the past year it appears the training for law enforcement officials is starting to pay off. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes told The New York Times in May that the New York law “has enabled us to rescue young women, girls really, from the grip of traffickers, who in the past have been able to avoid prosecution.”

Critics such as Doogan worry that the new definition of human traffickers is so vague that it could include people caught distributing child pornography, even if they had no personal contact with the young victims. We’d prefer the language were tighter, but the possibility that some aggressive prosecutors will overreach and throw the book at some child porn distributor — well, that’s a risk we’re somehow willing to take.

Vote “yes” on Proposition 35.

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