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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Proposition 35 Sex Trafficking Measure Passes

Steven Covelman |
November 6, 2012 | 6:21 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Prop. 35 aimed to change the state's laws on human trafficking. (Dawn Megli/Neon Tommy)
Prop. 35 aimed to change the state's laws on human trafficking. (Dawn Megli/Neon Tommy)

‪Proposition 35 passed easily Tuesday. As of 9:30 p.m., the measure had more than 80 percent support with 17 percent of precincts reporting.‬

Proposition 35, or the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, is designed to make sweeping changes to the state’s laws on human trafficking.

It will increase prison terms for human traffickers, require convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders, require all registered sex offenders to disclose their internet accounts and require criminal fines from convicted human traffickers to help cover the cost of services for victims. 

Child sex traffickers who use force could face life terms for their crimes. Currently, such a crime is punishable with a maximum eight-year sentence.

Trafficking fines would increase to up to $1.5 million. The current cap is $100,000.  

Proposition 35 will also expand human trafficking to include the creation and distribution of child pornography.

Backers of the Proposition said it would bring the severity of punishments up to the same level as federal cases and it would protect the public from traffickers by requiring them to register as sex offenders. 

"California should be a leader, like our state is on countless other issues, and Prop. 35 will help make that possible," Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) said in an article she wrote for the Huffington Post. "It will send a message to traffickers that California is determined to put an end to this horrific crime and help protect victims." 

According to the FBI, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego are among the country’s 13 highest child sex trafficking areas. A 2011 study by the Shared Hope International and American Center for Law and Justice gave California an "F" for its poor child sex trafficking laws.  

The Proposition was endorsed by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and numerous law enforcement organizations and advocacy groups. 

Leading the charge behind Proposition 35 was Daphne Phung, a former financial analyst who quit her job to work on the issue full time.  

According to the Los Angeles Times, Phung became inspired to fight sex trafficking after watching a documentary about the issue on Valentine's Day three years ago.  

"I'm from Vietnam, a country where people don’t trust the law to protect them," Phung told the Times. She said that the documentary "challenged my faith and belief in America as the country that claims to provide freedom and equal protection for everyone." 

As of Nov. 3 the "Yes on 35" campaign raised approximately $3.7 million. 

Over $2 million of that money is from Chris Kelly, Facebook's former privacy chief who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general of California in 2010.  He also helped draft the Proposition.

The rest of the money raised is from law enforcement associations, teachers associations and some individual private donors. 

The opposition did not raise any funds. 

There was no specific "No on 35" campaign, but that does not mean there is no controversy surrounding the Proposition.

According to the Times, many advocates and academics in the human trafficking field say that the Proposition is misguided and could have unintended consequences. They believe that just toughening penalties for offenders does little to combat the issue. 

Critics worry that increasing fines would hurt the chances of victims being compensated in civil court.  

The Proposition takes the money collected from fines and gives it to law enforcement and victim service organizations instead of the victims themselves. 

"To take money from their victimization that would otherwise go to them directly is really not right,"  chief executive of Abolish Slavery and Trafficking Kay Buck told the Times. 

Other point of contention was the implementation of life terms for some offenders and the expansion of the sex offender registry. 

Studies show that there is no correlation between longer sentences and fewer criminal offenses.

"I would ask how has higher sentencing worked for our war on drugs on California? It may cut down on recidivism when that person is in custody, but it doesn't prevent crime," retired lieutenant from the San Jose Police Department’s human trafficking task force John Vanek told Truthout.  

The opposition also argued that adding traffickers to the sex offender database clouds its purpose. It is intended to be a tool for police and citizens to track the location of sexual predators.  

"At the core of their campaign is emotion and not fact, and not a true understanding of what's going on," Vanek said.



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Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of the California Propositions here.

Reach Staff Reporter Steven Covelman here



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