California’s Prop 35: Why Some Oppose an Anti-Sex-Trafficking Initiative

The proposition is likely to pass but some experts say it may be flawed and may not be helpful to victims

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VoteYesOn35.com

A man holds signs in support of Proposition 35 in Calif.

For a state that often finds itself in ferocious debate over ballot initiatives, California is quite solidly behind Proposition 35. If Prop 35 passes on Tuesday, the state will raise the punishment for sex trafficking of a minor with force or fraud to as high as a life sentence. The current maximum is eight years. The fines for trafficking would also increase and pay for services that help victims; all convicted sex traffickers would have to register as sex offenders too.

The FBI says California is a major hub for trafficking, and, according to the Los Angeles Police Department, more gangs are using forced prostitution instead of selling drugs as a revenue source. Contrary to popular belief, many of the victims are native Californians, not foreigners. “You see more girls out on the street,” says Lieutenant Andre Dawson, who is in charge of the LAPD’s human-trafficking unit. “I think Proposition 35 is right on the ball,” says Marie, a trafficking survivor. “These pimps will be more scared to confront girls, and it would help the girls have a voice.”

Marie, who is now pursuing a college degree, agreed to speak with TIME on the condition that her real name not be used. She was made available to TIME through an organization that helps women who want to escape the clutches of sex-trafficking gangs. She says the law is important because young women don’t know what recourse they have. She speaks from painful experience. Despite seven years of violent, forced prostitution, Marie says she couldn’t bring herself to rat out her pimps. In a twisted way, she recalls, they offered her a form of love and protection she couldn’t get from her family. And when the pimps got more violent, beating her and forcing her to have sex on a daily basis, she became too afraid to speak out. “Your pimp might be beating you in the passenger seat of the car when the police pull you over,” says Marie, who met her first pimp when she was 14. “You always say you’re fine.”

(MORE: Celebrity Anti-Sex-Trafficking PSAs: Good Intentions Gone Wrong?)

Still, despite stories from victims like Marie and the firm backing of law enforcement and major politicians, Prop 35 has its detractors. Some people who have spent decades working to protect victims say that while it is well intentioned, the measure may not make things better. First, the funds from the fines imposed on criminals would go to law enforcement and organizations that provide services for victims, not directly to the survivors themselves. That’s helpful, but opponents say victims should be directly restituted for their labor. “All the money that comes from a trafficking case should go where it belongs: directly into the hands of the person who survived that exploitation,” declared Annie Fukushima, a lecturer on women and gender studies at San Francisco State University, on a “No on Proposition 35” blog. In any case, says Lois Lee, who runs a Los Angeles nonprofit that rescues victims of child sex trafficking, it would merely be “blowing smoke” to increase fines on criminals because it’s usually too hard to locate their assets.

Opponents also take issue with a proposed change that would make it impossible to use evidence that victims engaged in a commercial sexual act to prove their criminal liability. While that may sound beneficial, some experts point out that prosecuting victims as prostitutes can actually help law enforcement rescue them — and charge their traffickers. “When you rescue these kids from the pimps, they love these guys,” Lee says. “They’re not going to testify against their boyfriends. The only reason they’re testifying now is that they’re afraid to go to jail if they don’t.” Another clause of Prop 35 would prevent the use of the past sexual histories of victims. In an op-ed for U-T San Diego, Ami Carpenter, an assistant professor at the University of San Diego, argued that most victims do not admit that they are exploited until detectives question their accounts and bring up past history of commercial sex acts.

The Los Angeles Times urged a no vote on the initiative as well, arguing that increasing penalties for traffickers won’t encourage more victims to come forward. “By that logic, victims would already have an incentive to seek federal help, because federal law imposes harsh penalties,” the Times said. “Yet that’s hardly the case.” The paper also said longer prison terms wouldn’t deter criminals from trafficking. Finally, detractors like Kathleen Kim, a professor at Loyola Law School who co-authored California’s current trafficking law, say the proposal belittles victims of nonsexual forced labor because it would give harsher prison terms for human trafficking of a sexual nature than for other forms of trafficking.

(MORE: Goldman Sachs and Sex Trafficking: The Acute Discovery of a Chronic Condition)

John Vanek, a retired police lieutenant who managed the human-trafficking task force at the San Jose Police Department, says most Californians don’t know about the problematic details of the measure because few people are willing to speak out against an emotional proposal that deals with such a clearly horrific crime. “Some organizations won’t oppose this because it will hurt their reputations,” he says. Lee adds, “Proposition 35 is do-gooder legislation with no regard to the social impact of the child who is recruited by pimps.”

Chris Kelly, Facebook’s former privacy chief who is backing the proposition with more than $2 million, says opponents don’t know what they’re talking about. He says the proposal answers California’s need for a comprehensive trafficking law that brings state laws up to federal standards, making it easier for prosecutors in California to go after traffickers rather than sending cases to the feds. Changes are also needed, he says, because current law emphasizes victims brought from other countries over “homegrown recruitment.” He cites a report by antitrafficking group Shared Hope International that gave California an F grade on its trafficking laws. The analysis said the state provides limited options for prosecutors and little protection for victims. “Having a comprehensive, victim-centered approach will allow California to go from worst to first,” Kelly tells TIME.

The yes campaign also backs up its argument by pointing out that many experts are on its side. Alameda County prosecutor Sharmin Bock helped draft the measure, while a long list of advocacy, community and faith organizations are listed as supporters on the campaign’s website. “The people in the trenches back this law,” Bock says. Dianne Amato of the Los Angeles–based Mary Magdalene Project, which helps women who are victims of trafficking, is one of them. “It may not be the perfect proposition but I think it’s needed,” she says. “There has to be more deterrent, more bite against trafficking at a younger age.”

MORE: Prostitution: Ukraine’s Unstoppable Export

26 comments
AmyF
AmyF

Obviously many of you have no idea what goes on out there on the streets. I have been on the streets with these women and girls rescuing them and helping them for nearly 4 years now and I have seen the manipulation, fear, hopelessness and devastation of these ladies. Unless you have been there in the trenches YOU HAVE NO CLUE WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT! I don't see anyone of you championing the cause in another way! Unless you are a part of the solution your part of the problem! I even saw one of you siding with the poor sex offenders. SEX OFFENDERS CAN DEVISTATE AND ROB YEARS OF LIFE FROM A VICTIM! WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU? SHAME ON YOU PEOPLE! I like how we are doing better then your NOT doing anything but hindering even just the beginning of JUSTICE for these forgotten women and girls.

JillWatson
JillWatson

Sex trafficking is illegal and the penalties are very severe. It is very difficult to force someone to be a sex slave, they would have to have 24 hour guards posted and be watched 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. Have the threat of violence if they refused, and have no one notice and complain to the authorities or police. They would need to hide from the general public yet still manage to see customers from the general public and not have the customers turn the traffickers in to the police. They would need to provide them with medical care, food, shelter, and have all their basic needs met. They would need to have the sex slaves put on a fake front that they enjoyed what they were doing, act flirtatious and do their job well. They would have to deal with the authorities looking for the missing women, and hide any money they may make, since it comes from illegal activity. They must do all of this while constantly trying to prevent the sex slaves from escaping and reporting them to the police. They would need to prevent the general public from reporting them into the police. This is extremely difficult to do, which makes this activity rare. These criminals would be breaking dozens of major laws not just one. Kidnapping itself is a serious crime. There are many laws against sex trafficking, sex slavery, kidnapping, sex abuse, rape, sexual harassment etc. If someone is behind it, they will be breaking many serious laws, be in big trouble, and will go to jail for many long years.

http://www.lauraagustin.com

chrisjnavarro
chrisjnavarro

as we argue over semantics. right now a teenager is being forced into sex.  in this moment...as we type these comments.  another teenage girl is trafficked, coerced, and/ or raped.  she'll probably die with in the next six years.  3 girls in my neighborhood were trafficked and murdered.  many traffickers are getting away with exploitation.  the trafficking has so many levels that need to be addressed.  from awareness, to rehabilitation, to law enforcement training.  35 is not perfect but it addresses many of the things that ought to be done.  when i spend some time with victims, and their families it tends to make me lean a certain way on this subject.

west699
west699

Human Trafficking, Sex Trafficking, Sex Slavery is used by many groups as a attempt to outlaw all consensual adult prostitution around the world by saying that all women are victims even if they do it willing. This hurts any real victims because it labels all sex workers as victims. This is done by the media, aid groups, NGO’s, feminists, politicians, Government officials and religious organizations that receive funds from the government. There are very strong groups who promote that all adult women who have sex are victims even if they are willing, enjoy it and go out of there way to get it. These groups try to get the public to believe that no adult women in their right mind would ever go into the sex business unless she was forced to do so, weather she knew it or not. They say that 100% of all sex workers are trafficking victims. 

These groups believe that two adults having consensual sex in private should be outlawed. Since they believe that it is impossible for a man to have sex with a woman without abusing the woman in the process.

http://sextraffickingtruths.blogspot.com/

AmyF
AmyF

@west699 no we don’t believe that two consenting adults having sex is wrong. We believe that people who prey on our vulnerable women and children should pay for the free ride they have enjoyed while they profited on their sexual servitude of a child they intimidated, manipulated, raped and beat into submission.

west699
west699

California voters hold the power this Election Day to decide if many if people convicted of adult consensual  prostitution-related offenses in their state must now register as sex offenders.Proposition 35 adds to this dangerous mix: the overlapping matrix of laws concerning trafficking, the increasingly common conflation of adult consensual commercial sex with trafficking found in these laws, and the concerns of rights’ advocates. If passed, Prop 35 will create more severe criminal penalties for what it describes as “sexual exploitation”—a potentially far-reaching term that can include any kind of adult commercial sex, whether or not force, fraud or coercion was present.Under Prop 35, anyone involved in the adult consensual sex trade could potentially be viewed as being involved in trafficking, and could face all of the criminal penalties associated with this redefinition of who is involved in “trafficking,”

http://bebopper76.wordpress.com

George286
George286

I voted no because I am suspicious of any proposition that circumvent the deliberative legislative process.  The proposition process was enacted to override any legislature that has been purchased by special interest groups and I believe California has been hobbled by multiple propositions that have made the state very difficult to govern. A proposition that attempts to pass a scheme of criminal statutes even imposing specific sentences seems foolhardy, like asking the crowd outside a surgical room to vote on what should be done next.  It is a dangerous and idiotic way to decide matters and pass specific laws and it should only be used when needed to break the grip of a lobby.  The three strikes law that imposed a life sentence for a non-violent third felony such as passing a bad check is a good example. This could just as easily be a law to legitimize "recovered memory" evidence, which was shown to be junk science and sent several innocent people to prison in what was effectively a witch hunt.

While I am happy with punishing those who force people into prostitution as if they were rapists, which is what they are, they have no lobby in the legislature as far I can tell.  And I am sure the legislature would be on board with this too if the facts are as the proposition states, but with a considered, measured and probably much more effective approach.  Why haven't the the backers of this proposition petitioned for this kind of law, why wouldn't the legislature pass it, why must they circumvent this process?  I am also suspicious that this law may be a pretext for other ends, perhaps the puritanical punishing voluntary sex workers, adult movie actors or even people that sell dirty magazines, who knows?  For all I know the prison guard union is behind it to boost demand for their services.  

These are all questions a legislature is designed to investigate and fashion effective laws to address, not the public with its short attention span and a few blurbs on the topic.  SORRY, VOTE NO OR YOU MAY GET AN UGLY SURPRISE, tell the legislature to do something about it.

lomtevas
lomtevas like.author.displayName 1 Like

The criminal element is always years ahead of the knuckleheads in law enforcement. This law will never have its intended effect and especially in California, innocent people will find this law being used against them in contexts that cannot be now imagined.

GaryMcCray
GaryMcCray like.author.displayName 1 Like

Every culture has taboos, in this culture, "sex offences" are a really major taboo.

We have already compromised our legal system by demanding that sex offenders already are not granted the rights that other prisoners who have served their terms are.

This law extends much further into intrusion and interpretation and invites selective enforcement.

Many things that we would not even think of as any of our business or of any significance will be able to be interpreted in potentially horribly damaging ways.

We are inviting a witch hunt.

Well crafted this would be law that almost anyone would vote for. 

This is not that law!

XiraArien
XiraArien

I really feel sorry for any young man who asks to see his girlfriend's tata-s over a phone with this law in place.

Unintended consequences and all, but they will get life sentences for sexting.

Martian_14
Martian_14

Political correctness is killing America. This is mostly a black and Latino problem, and should be treated as such. There is a huge cultural component to the problem that is not addressed by these generic one-size-fits-all law. 

Nobody is in favor of kids being treated like that. This is horrendous. But, to pretend that those generic laws will have any effect is not very smart...  Sex trafficking is only the tip of an humongous social iceberg.

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

John 1:12........But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name

Mace
Mace

Most of these gang members are latino or black.

George286
George286

@Mace What difference does that make?, either they are predators or they aren't, even if all of them are some race.

BenIncaHutz
BenIncaHutz like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Mace Everyone on the Italian mafia is Italian aka white. Whats your point?

 You did have a point right?

RonalderWorthington
RonalderWorthington

PUT ALL of America in jail. Americans are already the most sanctimonious, monitored, jailed people on the planet.

Let's put all of /America in jail, then there will be no more crime at all. DOH!

JosephineViolet
JosephineViolet

There are more reasons that just these to oppose the Case Act...it will disproportionately affect the poor and women of color, it creates ambiguity in the law that could prevent sex workers from helping each other for fear of trafficking charges, and could even lead to innocent people such as the families of adult, consensual sex workers to be charged with trafficking, whether they knew the source of income or not, and force them to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.  No one is supportive of trafficking, but this law is too ambiguous and cuts off resources by further criminalizing the behavior of consensual sex workers.  Find out why the ACLU, SAGE, the founder of Children of the Night, California Council of Churches, and Susan Israel from the California Public Defenders Association all oppose prop 35...www.againstthecaseact.com

George286
George286

@JosephineViolet  with the few exceptions where gender or economic status compel lawlessness I reject the general excuse that any law is wrong just because it disproportionately effects some sub-group. It is perverted logic, people are held responsible as individuals not demographic groups.  Laws against murder disproportionately effect the poor and people of color because ghettos and barrios are more violent, is that some kind of excuse, should we let these murderers off the hook?   Please lady, grow a brain.

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

No one ever knows the ramifications of a law until it's been on the books for a while. I'm sure the detractors have valid points, but the bottom line is that sex trafficking, particularly the young victims, IS worse than the other types of human trafficking and SHOULD be punished more severely. If the law works, fix the other issues later, don't just drop it just because there "may" be problems with implementation.

GaryMcCray
GaryMcCray

@BobSheepleherder 

Adding bad laws is far more problematic than the consequences of not.

Once they are in they can be and are used selectively to forward the agendas of those not at all concerned with human rights or reasonable interpretation, prosecutors and politicians come immediately to mind and law enforcment itself can use it to suppress and intimidate.

And once in as law they are hell to get rid of or change for the better.

I hate the very idea of sex trafficking, but this law can be easily used to jail and persecute people who have NOT commited acts of which we would normally disapprove.

It is a bad law and should be soundly defeated, unfortunately because of it's inciteful topic it will almost certainly pass whether it is good for the people of California or not.

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

@BobSheepleherder FYI: It's a crime ALREADY to have sex with a minor or force them to have sex.above and beyond the charges of prostitution.  It's an additional charge and additional sentence, therefore this law is pointless based on your assertion that human trafficking for sexual purposes is "worse" and should be punished more.  This law does far more than just add a sentence to it.  It changes the definition of human trafficking to create a situation where innocent people who have nothing to do with it  will be forced to become registered sex offenders, creating an additional burden on society.

If you want longer sentences, fine, though human trafficking is reprehensible regardless of the reason they're being exploited.  Increase sentences.  Don't change the definition to make people who aren't even remotely considered traffickers now into traffickers.

In short, don't go along with all the sheeple in a knee-jerk, feel-good act of mindless legislation that will only create new, worse problems.  There's a right way and many wrong ways to address an issue.   It doesn't sound to me like this is a right way to addresses the issue, and goes far beyond the longer sentences that you advocate.

chrisjnavarro
chrisjnavarro

@Fatesrider @BobSheepleherder I'm still learning more about this.  example of  what folks "not remotely considered traffickers" would be under scrutiny?do you have any experience with any victims and/or the people it's attempting to protect.  

akpat
akpat

Well if you are going to put them in prison for life why not just top them instread and solve the problem once and for all.

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

@akpat You presume everyone convicted of ac rime actually did the crime for which they were convicted.  I can think of several ways a woman can use this law to get a boyfriend or husband convicted when they did nothing wrong at all.

But, then, we live in a society where anyone arrested is tried, convicted and sentenced before the ink on the fingerprint cards is even dry, so I guess scrupling at due process or making sure the person actually did do the crime before we cap them won't stand in the way of just offing them, huh?


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