Importance of Prop 35

The issue of human trafficking has grown rapidly in recent years, especially in Sacramento, so it’s no surprise that new trafficking laws are appearing on the ballot this year under Proposition 35.

The proposition – if passed- will increase penalties on those who force or coerce others into prostitution or other labor. According to the California Official Voter Information Guide, we can expect “Increased costs, not likely to exceed a couple million dollars annually, to state and local governments for criminal justice activities related to the prosecution and incarceration of human trafficking offenders.” We can also expect an unknown amount of revenue from added criminal fines.

Proponents argue that the bill sends a strong message to those who practice human trafficking by imposing stronger prison sentences to pimps and doing more to prevent future crimes- like ordering offenders to register as sexual predators, while opponents say that it could potentially lead to the wrong people being punished.

Human trafficking is a growing national issue, and California offers a lucrative position for the illegal trade. “The state’s extensive international border, its major harbors and airports, its powerful economy and accelerating population, its large immigrant population and its industries make it a prime target for traffickers.” According to a 2007 report from the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force.

Much of our state has been affected by the issue, and San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles are listed by the FBI as three of the top 13 highest child sex trafficking areas in the nation, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Weighing the information at hand, it’s clearly essential that we do more to prevent human trafficking in our state, and Proposition 35 deducts little from the current state budget. So what are the downsides?

Maxine Doogan, president of Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education, and Research Project, Inc. wrote in the argument against prop 35, “This short-sighted ballot measure relies on a broad definition of pimping. This includes: parents, children, roommates, domestic partners, and landlords of prostitutes to be labeled as sex offenders.”

However, the broad definition of pimping that Doogan refers to is one that has already been drawn by Assembly Bill 22 in 2005, and by the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2006. Current human trafficking laws already rely on the “broad definition of pimping” that those created. Prop 35 will not change who is being punished or what they are being punished for, but it will change to what extent they can be punished.

Its important that we do not trivialize the importance of strictly defining human trafficking, as our current laws can potentially result in more litigation fees as courts seek to define it themselves. But because proposition 35 is merely playing off of a definition of human trafficking that already exists, and because Human trafficking affects our state so acutely, Prop 35 is a step in the right direction.

We cannot allow the pimping, abuse or forced labor of anyone, especially children, and Prop 35 sets a strong example against that. Halting state efforts against the illegal trade merely because preexisting laws are written too broadly would do nothing but hurt progress in the fight against human trafficking for entirely the wrong reasons.