We’ve Changed Our Minds about Prop 35, but NOT about Sex Trafficking

by on October 28, 2012 · 20 comments

in Voter Guide 2012

Editor’s Note: During a meeting of the SDFP Editorial Board this afternoon, some of us expressed reservations regarding our stand, as a group, on a YES endorsement of Proposition 35. We agreed that we would do more research and report back. Below are the opinions of two of our members, whose views mirror my own and are expressed much more eloquently. ~ Editor du Jour, Patty Jones

SDFP Editorial Board Member Anna Daniels

Wading through the propositions on the ballot this year required both time and effort.  I have felt largely confident about the positions I had taken on issues and candidates, except for Prop 35, the anti-sex trafficking initiative.  Along with the other SDFP editors, I had cast my vote in favor of the initiative, although it was apparent that there could potentially be fall-out for individual lives and broader civil liberties that I definitely would not support.

I weighed a particular reality against that potential.  My community of City Heights is one of the neighborhoods in the city of San Diego where recruiting girls (average entry age is 12-14) into prostitution occurs.

Girls who have been picked up for curfew violation by the police in City Heights are offered participation in a diversion program as an alternative to facing a judge.  These girls attend a class that cautions them about falling prey to sex trafficking.  I have a hard time wrapping my head around 12-14 year olds being recruited for prostitution and that a class of this nature is necessary.  I feel rage and revulsion against the practice of sex trafficking and a fierce protectiveness towards these girls that requires legislative and societal support.

Is that a knee-jerk response to Prop 35?  I would rather call it stomach churning and add that I have been unable to resolve my very strong feelings on the subject with a piece of legislation that also is stomach churning.

Kit-Bacon Gressitt wrote a piece on Prop 35 which laid out the support for the initiative and the concerns raised by the opposition.  It is worth reading. Her closing statement that “… Prop 35 is going to pass, and we can only wait to see if it produces good things for the people of California or ends up in the rogue’s gallery of ill-conceived and malevolent ballot measures” has lingered with me.

Once again I am weighing the opposition arguments against the particular- my City Heights community.  This initiative includes mandatory sentences, which keeps the prison-industrial complex alive and well, to the detriment of poor, multi-racial communities like City Heights.

I am concerned about the impacts upon the families of  pimps who have been charged with crimes.  It was eye opening for me to talk to a 75 year old woman on the bus who told me that she lost her Section 8 housing when her grandson, who was staying with her, was busted for drugs.  She didn’t have enough money to rent at market rates and she sat in a state of shock, shaking her head and saying “I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

Because I am not sure that the legislation will indeed address the problem of sex trafficking and because I am likewise concerned that it will result in a different kind of misery, I will be voting no against Prop 35.

I do not put this in the context of a “progressive’s dilemma” but rather in the context of a societal and policy fail.  When I vote against Prop 35, I do it with the full knowledge that it will not do a damn thing about sex trafficking in City Heights or anywhere else.

SDFP Editorial Board Member Annie Lane

I’ve sat with my pen poised over Proposition 35 a number of times and will admit that I’m pretty conflicted. Prop 35, or Californians Against Sexual Exploitation, seems like it should be pretty cut and dry, but the more I read about it the more I think that’s not the case.

Prop 35 is based on the idea that not enough is being done to punish human trafficking, though that can be argued. California already imposes strict punishment under federal law with life imprisonment for the most severe of cases. In addition, state laws punish sex trafficking with imprisonment of five to eight years depending on the age of the victim, forfeitures of property and required registration as a sex offender.

True, a yes vote on Prop 35 would increase the terms of these punishments — which would be nice especially when considering the worst case scenario — but not without also expanding the definition of sexual crimes to include the most mundane of offenses. The simplest of these examples is the 18-year-old who is dating a 17-year-old but is under the impression that she is of age. If he were to get a naked picture of her and show his buddies, it would be considered a commercial sex act with a minor and have devastating effects on his future.

As the L.A. Times put it, “[Prop 35] expands the sex offender registry and, in so doing, converts it from a useful tool to help police and residents track the whereabouts of potentially dangerous sexual predators into a list that includes non-sex criminals, including traffickers who extort money.”

While I think that Prop 35 is well-intended, I’m also struck by the reality that sexual crimes do not fall into a cookie cutter category. In other words, what could work to put away one legitimate human trafficker and pervert could end up imprisoning some fool who made a few bad decisions.

In addition, proponents of Prop 35 believe that longer prison sentences have a greater effect on criminals, making them less likely to commit additional crimes. That theory has not been proven. The more I think about it, the more it seems a longer prison sentence would have the potential to harden someone, providing dangerous connections and creating a vicious cycle in which one might feel there is no way out.

Prop 35 would also clog up the prisons with people who have committed what once were lesser infractions — directly contradicting any progress we would make if Prop 36 were to pass, which revises the Three Strikes law to impose a life sentence only if the third felony is serious or violent.

Currently, the average cost per inmate per year is $47,000 and, with Prop 35 expanding the definition of a sexual crime to include non-sexual offenses, it is expected to have a sizable fiscal impact. While the ballot seemingly minimizes that impact by saying it’ll “cost a few million dollars annually to state and local governments for addressing human trafficking offenses,” further reading indicates that it will do so much more. In addition to special training of local law enforcement in order for California’s finest to identify sex trafficking victims, there will also be money poured into regulating the new (and questionably unconstitutional) Internet restraints that are written into the proposition.

I could go on, but will choose to end now by saying this: I am a Californian and I am against sexual exploitation. I would jump at the chance to see a decrease in human trafficking crimes, and to know that those out there who are legitimate predators are being put away for good. But I don’t want to see that happen at the expense of those who are basically innocent. I will be voting no on Proposition 35, and encourage all of you to do your own research before filling in that bubble.

avatar Pamela October 28, 2012 at 10:42 pm

To compare drug users to people who sell children for sex is irresponsible, to say the very least. Perhaps if Anna had sat next to the grandmother of a child prostitute under the control of a pimp, her opinion would be different. Hell…I was in line next to a white man today, and I am not going to vote for Mitt Romney. I am a progressive’s progressive, a liberal’s liberal, but this piece is asinine. If we don’t stand against sex trafficking, what will we stand against? I prefer that the blood from my bleeding heart protect the innocent, not the “well, the law sorta says I might maybe could be innocent.”

avatar Patty Jones October 28, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Pamela, your opinion has been noted. Our intent was to explain why we have changed our minds on how we are voting and to encourage others to research this issue. To imply that we don’t care about the victims of these crimes is asinine.

avatar Hope October 29, 2012 at 7:02 pm

The problem is you don’t understand Prop 35 or the realities of human trafficking. You’re concerned for the families of pimps? You’re concerned that Prop 35 will impact the wrong people or keep the penal system alive and well? You’re concerned about the cost of Prop 35? First, according to Sharmin Bock, prosecuting attorney and co-author of the initiative, Prop 35 only covers cases where traffickers profit from the sexual exploitation of a child or the forced exploitation of an adult. The proposition is narrowly tailored and specifically states that there must be criminal intent to violate the law. Second, human traffickers are extremely dangerous people – the ones who belong in prison and off the streets. The average age of entry is 12 to 14 years old. Although some victims are kidnapped, the vast majority are runaways who grow up as victims of violence, sexual abuse and neglect in their own homes inflicted by parents who are supposed to love and protect them. They eventually run away to the streets (or go to the Internet) and into the waiting arms of pimps posing as good Samaritans. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the majority of runaways are solicited by a sex trafficker within 48 hours. The pimps are master manipulators. Their standard operating procedure is to cruise the streets or Internet looking for runaways, then befriend the girls and provide them with food, shelter, and clothes before raping, drugging and selling them to johns. The girls are kept compliant through violence or threats of violence if they try to go to the police or escape. Some have died trying. Third, costs resulting from Prop 35 will be negligible, especially when viewed long term. The fines will generate new funds to pay for the vital services necessary to help survivors recover, build new lives, and become contributing members of the community. (The majority of survivors come from abusive homes and can’t go back to them.) In addition, law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and social services will see savings through vast reductions in future arrests and broken lives. Prop 35 is endorsed by law enforcement organizations, prosecutors, elected officials, and child advocates throughout California because it provides the strong penalties, fines and prosecutorial tools required to put the traffickers away for a long time and take away their huge profits – things the state current law and the federal courts have failed to do. Please see: http://www.caseact.org/news/vote-yes-on-prop-35-to-stop-human-trafficking-in-california.

avatar Abby October 28, 2012 at 11:11 pm

I think these reported need to watch the documentary “Half the Sky” to understand the implications of Human Trafficking if stricter laws are not created. There are 3 years old being raped repeatedly in other countries; it is only a matter of time before that happens in the US since it is Americans and Europeans whom are funding this business throughout the world. As a social worker in South LA, it is no secret that gangs are shifting to the business of child prostitution over drug selling because you get a lesser sentence for engaging in sex trafficking. Please do more thorough research and not base your decision on a grandmother whom losses section 8. Perhaps, other grandsons will think twice before disgracing their families. Our society needs to tell these abused girls that they matter!

avatar Jack October 29, 2012 at 8:34 am

The Green Party County Council voted to endorse passage of Prop. 35, and we are in disagreement with the California Green Party. The issues which Anna and Annie expressed were exactly the same issues with which we had problems. We believed, however, given the exploitative and onerous nature of underground sex-slavery, perhaps the benefits would out weigh the negatives.

What is interesting is that this omnibus sex statute is being put into play, at the same time three-strikes has been recognized as draconian, racist, ill-conceived and expensive; not the end all to crime I am certain it was first conceived to be. Three strikes is now up for modification, and a relatively reasonable one at that.

I believe when we have knee-jerk reactions to “bad” things, we end up doing far more worse than we had planned. I think about this every time I drive the freeway looking up at those multi-million dollar “Amber Alert” signs which are more often than not are used as a sort of Big Brother reminder to report drunk drivers, “click it or ticket,” Don’t text and drive, etc, etc. Is that what we really had in mind when we voted for all those Amber laws to our protect children…another resource for the State to use to control us?

I commend Annie and Anna for engaging in dialogue about the grey area of a politically sensitive area, and not just whether it is good or bad.

avatar Hope Francis October 29, 2012 at 9:11 am

For a good understanding of Prop 35 an article (link at end of comment) written by Sharmin Bock, a attorney who has spent 23 years trying to prosectute cases against traffickers and co-writer of Prop 35. Fueled by the Internet, human trafficking of children is flourishing in California because the profits are huge and the laws are weak, so the traffickers are raking in big bucks while operating with near impunity. Gangs are now getting into trafficking because it is less risky and more profitable for them to sell children than to sell drugs. Traffickers are dangerous people who need to be in prison and off the streets. Prop 35 is endorsed by law enforcement organizations, prosecutors, elected officials, Democratic and Republican parties and child advocates throughout California because it is a comprehensive law that provides the strong penalties, fines and prosecutorial tools required to put the traffickers away for a long time and take away their huge profits – things that the current law has failed to do. Many traffickers who should be in prison have walked because of the numerous loopholes in the current law. Prop 35 closes those loopholes. Fines that are collected from convicted traffickers will go to the many services victims need to recover from their trauma and get their lives on track. In addition to protecting victims by getting the traffickers in prison and off the streets, Prop 35 recognizes the children as the victims. It protects them in the courtroom where, under the current law, they are treated as criminals because their past behavior can be used against them when they testify against their abusers. Prop 35 provides trafficking victims the same level of protection rape victims have under the Rape Shield Law which prevents a victim’s sexual conduct from being admitted as evidence. Prop 35 also removes the requirement that the prosecution has to prove force, fraud or coercion in a child sex trafficking case. Prop 35 also requires convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders and to disclose their Internet accounts. We need to protect our children from traffickers who cruise Internet the same as traffickers who cruise the streets. Further, the costs will be negligible, especially when looked at long term. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office 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. On the other hand, Prop 35 will generate new funds through criminal fines to pay for victims’ services to help traumatized survivors recover and become vital members of our communities. Most trafficked children have no supportive home to go back to. The benefit of rescuing and healing these children far exceeds the very small expense associated with Prop 35. Moreover, helping survivors turn their lives around will pay dividends for generations. When exploited girls and boys are assisted, the law enforcement and criminal justice systems will see savings through vast reductions in future arrests and burdens on the courts.” For a good understanding of Prop 35, go to: http://www.caseact.org/news/vote-yes-on-prop-35-to-stop-human-trafficking-in-california/.

avatar Jack October 29, 2012 at 10:32 am

Your post belies the problem…you refer to the proposition as “comprehensive.” There is no such thing. It is similar to phrases like, “zero tolerance,” and “no exceptions.” The minute a proposition or law indicates it is comprehensive, it sends shivers up my spine. For all the good it will do, the draconian method of enforcement and potential abuse by law enforcement, prosecutors and judges frightens me no end.

After all, how is it possible to consider all the permutations which will fall technically into a violation of this law. I challenge my students in my criminal law and contemporary legal issues courses to determine whether or not if under the Patriot Act, smoking marijuana is a terrorist act (it is under the Narco-terrorism provisions). Has anyone been prosecuted under the convolutions of the act? Not that I know of. Could they be? Yes…and there in lies the problems with comprehensive laws. Another unnecessary tool for oppression of the people, when in fact there are sufficient oppressive tools in existence already.

avatar John Lawrence October 29, 2012 at 9:19 am

This points to the difficulty in voting on propositions which most people don’t have the time to research, and so they are vulnerable to TV ads making their decisions for them. In many cases, not necessarily this one, special interests get the propositions on the ballot and then advertise like hell to get them passed. If it is of a sufficiently complex nature it shouldn’t be on the ballot in the form of a proposition in the first place. Shouldn’t we be able to trust judges and the legislature to pass and enforce laws that protect the public and in particular protect girls from sex trafficking? After all aren’t they supposed to have more expertise and better judgment than the general public?

avatar Hope Francis October 29, 2012 at 10:35 am

We should be able to rely on the legislature for laws that protect children. The writers of Prop 35 went to the legislature multiple times over the past few years with no success. Girls are being trafficked for sex throughout California as I type these words. I was recently told by a juvenile probation officer that the vast majority of girls in juvenile hall are there due to human trafficking. Current law views them as criminals instead of victims. How long should they have to wait for the legislature to act? That’s why we as citizens need to act and vote “Yes” on Prop 35. I urge the editorial board to have the courage to revisit this issue further to understand the realities of human trafficking and Prop 35, starting with attorney Sharmin Bock’s article at http://www.caseact.org/news/vote-yes-on-prop-35-to-stop-human-trafficking-in-california/.

avatar Doug Porter October 29, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Our Voters Guide to the Propositions has been updated to reflect our new position.

avatar Kathy Geels October 29, 2012 at 3:28 pm

thought-provoking article. It seems a little out of place to discuss the horrors of sexually abused children; if somebody doesn’t get it, indignation is not going to change their mind. If they do get it, it’s wasted breath also.

I think the more productive conversation is about what types of policy will limit and minimize incentives for this type of crime. The parallels to drug crimes seem compelling to me because drug-related crime is often related to economic blight. People that turn to hard-core, seemingly immoral criminal life-styles start on a gradual path. No one is born thinking, “I want to make money doing bad things that society has rejected.”
1.) The normalization of crime is the beginning – when a person grows up in an area with limited economic options, crime is seen as a viable option for many. It is not behind the scenes, as in more affluent neighborhoods where white-collar crime prevails.
2.) Lack of education is a second cause. People that are able to think critically and rationally for themselves are much better able to defend themselves by avoiding decisions that carry the high-risk of negative consequences. It is not a cure-all, but it helps.
3.) job-training and economic opportunity. not everybody is made for college, but there is so much work to be done in the world. Social emphasis on redirecting people into constructive activity when their second-best option is crime. I don’t know to make these kinds of policies serve the communities, instead of the politicians, but harsh punishment does not seem to be working very well as a deterrent.

avatar Lizz October 29, 2012 at 5:40 pm

“I am concerned about the impacts upon the families of pimps who have been charged with crimes”

I’m sorry if the families of these human traffickers are hurt, but that is certainly NOT an excuse for being lenient against those who exploit and enslave others!

avatar noonprop35 October 29, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Take heart SDFP, you have company. Check out the former cop’s video and blog on who to has changed their mind on prop 35; the feel good but will be so bad ballot measure.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0u-uomqZUrA
Also, here he is talking at this panel discussion with one of the victims and she talks about how her daughter was targeted by a gang member for sex trafficking and he got 35 years. So the laws on the books are working. http://communicationleadership.usc.edu/blog/research_director_mark_latonero_leads_well-rounded_expert_panel_o

Too, check out this call for others to act in kind. http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/10/24/18724441.php Shame on the California State Democratic Party, the California State Republican Party, the California Federation of Labor, the California National Organization for Women, the California Federation of Teachers, the California Nurses Association and the NAACP for rubber stamping Prop 35 without bothering to ask to hear the opposition.

These group have neglected their responsibility to act democratically on behalf of the victims of trafficking and their own members when they didn’t bother to vet properly this reckless ballot measure.

Its not lost on the voters that Prop 35’s exact same lock’em up and throw away the key policies are being rolled back in both Prop 34 and 36. Not only have these failed policies robbed the public trust of affordable public education but they are contrary to the democracy these member organizations claim to value.

Its of no small consequence that Prop 32 is before the voters poised take away these group’s right to politically associate as they have voted against their own self interest and violated the public trust in the process over and over again.

These groups have clearly made a mistake by not soliciting the No On Prop 35 when it endorsed this bait and switch ballot measure. We call on them to take responsibility and admit they didn’t act democratically when they endorsed Prop 35.

Vote No ON Prop 35
Maxine Doogan
10/24/2012
http://www.noonprop35.info
@opposeprop35
noonprop35 [at] gmail.com

avatar Patty Jones October 30, 2012 at 8:24 pm

There is some very interesting reading at the NoOnProp35 website. Thank you for your comment and sharing the links.

avatar Norma Damashek October 30, 2012 at 3:25 pm

One of the big reasons I’m voting NO on Prop 35 is because I’ve become convinced that the initiative process is a very flawed tool for enacting reform and it’s too difficult to remedy ensuing problems.

Prop 36 is a good example of what I’m talking about — the poorly written and ill-conceived 3 strikes initiative has to be brought back to the voters to fix it, and it still leaves us with a half-baked law. For the same reason I’m opposing Prop 37 (labeling of genetically engineered foods) — it will come back to haunt us if it passes.

avatar Patty Jones October 30, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Perusing the interwebs I find that the LA Times has changed their position also, stating “Human trafficking is a very real and serious problem. Unfortunately, Proposition 35 doesn’t provide the answer.”

They also state that “the SAGE Project, (Standing Against Global Exploitation), a Northern California-based group that works with victims of trafficking, rescinded its endorsement. The group’s board of directors said it had a change of heart after careful review of the measure and asked that the group’s name be removed from the Proposition 35 website.”

“the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, or CAST, and the Polaris Project. CAST broke its silence when it released a statement to the Associated Press praising efforts that focus attention on the problem but noting that it worried about unintended consequences, including decreasing the amount of money available to survivors who seek civil damages.”

avatar Joe October 30, 2012 at 10:15 pm

I came to the same conclusion: I will vote against PROP 35 because people innocent of sex trafficking are likely to be swept up and convicted wrongly, marking them indelibly for life as the worst of pariahs.
I felt guilty for voting against Prop 35 until I read this op-ed.

Thank you

avatar HM October 31, 2012 at 6:36 pm

YES on Prop 35

Regarding the COST of Prop 35: Incarcerating KNOWN traffickers prevents further victimization. Recovery for survivors of sex trafficking costs upwards of $60 per year per person (health care, housing, education, job training, mental health services), not to mention life-long costs to the victims from trauma.

Regarding the belief that increased prison sentences will prevent criminals from trafficking: I agree that this is an argument that hasn’t been proven. However, by increasing sentencing, we WILL improve a sense of justice for victims and again, will keep KNOWN traffickers off the street. As the laws stand now, I’ve heard a pimp call current punishments and fines “taxes” on the inordinate amounts of money he makes sell women.

Regarding the impact to innocent parties: I think this argument has been overblown and become irrational. First, if you are housing someone that you KNOW is earning money by coercing or forcing women, you are aiding that person and are culpable. If you don’t know, or it can’t be proven, well you’re not going to be convicted. (This doesn’t address the poverty piece of what a grandmother should do, for example, if she’s relying on the money her pimp grandson brings home…?) Secondly, the likelihood that a DA would take the time to research an 18 yr. old who took a picture of his 17 yr. old girlfriend, is pretty low. There are many, many more intense, scary, and larger trafficking cases (trafficking rings and individual pimps who control groups of women), a DA is going to go after bigger fish, especially considering the small CA budgets we’re all working with these days.

Regarding the sex-offender registry: We have the registry, so why not populate it with the worst kind of sexual offender?

Regarding the statement that “enough” is already being done by CA and Federal law enforcement: It’s simply not the case. I’ve worked with many sex-trafficking survivors who have received nothing close to justice. Further, there are so few Federal agents available for this, many cases go untouched. Finally, California law is embarrassingly weak in it’s punishment of this insidious and violent crime.

VOTE YES ON PROP35. YES! YES! YES!

avatar YesEn35 November 5, 2012 at 2:37 pm

I agree to the comment above – YES! YES! YES! on Prop 35!

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