A prosecutor looks at the tragedy of human trafficking

As a prosecutor who has spent over a decade fighting human trafficking, I’ve seen the terrible human toll of sex trafficking in California. Every day, women and children are forced to sell their bodies, on the streets and online, for the financial gain of human traffickers.

I have helped to create and lead the first of its kind unit in the nation dedicated to recovering sexually exploited children and prosecuting those who profit from selling them.  Since 2006, this unit has prosecuted over 200 sex traffickers and supported the rescue of hundreds of children.

While our efforts have made a difference, we could’ve saved and prevented many more. A recent national study by a victims’ rights group gave California an “F” grade for its weak laws dealing with child sex trafficking.  Prop 35 eliminates the shortcomings of our existing law.

Drug dealers, gangs and organized crime are moving into sex trafficking because the current penalties present very low risk for them.  Grotesquely, they realize that there is no better investment than selling children these days because the profit is high and risk is low. And while children and girls are increasingly sold online, current laws against sexual exploitation have not been updated to face 21st century realities. I know we can do better.

The language of Prop 35 is carefully written to confront the growing problem of human trafficking in our state.  It uses federal law as a guideline and draws on the first-hand experience of prosecutors and those who work to help victims.

Prop 35 changes California law by:

–Increasing prison terms for all forms of human trafficking to match federal sentences.

–Requiring convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders.

–Requiring all registered sex offenders to disclose their internet accounts, states such as New York already have.

–Requiring criminal fines from convicted human traffickers to fund victim services.

–Mandating human trafficking training for law enforcement.

–Providing trafficking victims the same level of protection rape victims have under the Rape Shield Law.

–Removing the requirement to prove force, fraud or coercion in a child sex trafficking case.

After so many years of working to stop human trafficking and strengthen our laws against this crime, it is a dream come true to see a measure like Prop 35. There’s no doubt that Prop 35 will save lives. That’s why the measure has bipartisan support from survivors, anti-trafficking advocates, women’s rights groups, child advocates, faith-based organizations to major law enforcement organizations, lawmakers, and prosecutors.

The changes embedded in Prop 35 will save lives and taxpayer resources. You may have some questions about Prop 35.  Here are some answers to the questions we hear most often so you can make an informed choice.

What will Prop 35 cost?

The costs of Prop 35 are negligible.  The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) has reported Prop 35 will have a “minor increase in state and local criminal justice costs from increased penalties” and there would be potential one-time local costs of up to a few million statewide for police training. However, Prop 35 will generate new funds through criminal fines to pay for victims’ services.

The benefit of rescuing and healing our children far exceeds the very small expense associated with Prop 35. When exploited girls and boys are assisted, the criminal justice system will see savings through vast reductions in future arrests and burdens on the courts.

Would Prop 35 criminalize consensual behavior?

No. Human trafficking entails profiting from the sexual exploitation of a child, the use of force, fraud and coercion to compel an adult into forced labor or commercial sex acts against their will.  Prop 35 is narrowly tailored and specifically states that there must be criminal intent to violate the law.  Prop 35 not only requires the showing that the trafficker causes a child “to engage in a commercial sex act”  but also “with the intent to effect or maintain a violation of Section,” and it lists 12 different existing criminal sections in our state law. Prop 35 does not impact prostitution involving consensual adults.

Does Prop 35 broaden the definition of human trafficking?

The only change that Prop 35 makes to the current definition of human trafficking is the expansion of the list of trafficking violations to include the production of child pornography. The distribution of child pornography would only be included if the distributor specifically caused the child to engage in the sexual act. The measure clarifies the definition of coercion by mirroring the definition in the federal law.

Does Prop 35 unfairly limit the ability of accused traffickers to defend themselves in court?

No. Prop 35 simply levels the playing field for victims who can currently be intimidated out of their rights.  The measure provides trafficked victims the same level of protection that rape victims currently receive under the Rape Shield Law.  Like the federal human trafficking law, Prop 35 removes the requirement to prove force in child sex trafficking cases. Specifically, evidence that the victims engaged in a commercial sex act (such as prostitution) as a result of being a victim of human trafficking cannot be used to prosecute them.

Prop 35 gives prosecutors, police and advocates the tools we need to fight this very important fight. Prop 35 is a comprehensive and effective response to an epidemic that plagues our state and a way to protect our children from what is – no matter how you look at it – modern day slavery.

Let’s send a clear message that California does not tolerate the sexual exploitation of women and children. Please Vote Yes on 35. 

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: