California Prop. 35 Increases Criminal Penalties for Human Trafficking

Social reform and justice issues make up the bulk of the initiatives put forth by voters on this November’s ballot. One such initiative, proposition 35, aims to tackle human trafficking.

Prop 35, entitled Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, would toughen penalties for sex trafficking and add those convicted of the crime to the state's sex offender registry.

According to Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, voters should become informed about statewide and local ballot measures, such as prop 35, before heading to the polls this November.

“Change will primarily have to be done through initiatives,” she said at a meeting at the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce last month. “That’s the way our constitution was written.”

California harbors three of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 13 highest child sex trafficking areas in the U.S. -- Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, according to the F.B.I.'s Investigation's Efforts to Combat Crimes Against Children report from 2009.

Human Trafficking is defined as profiting from the enslavement of people for sexual services or labor, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. Victims are subjected to force, fraud and coercion for the purpose of commercial sex, debt bondage and forced labor, according to the department’s website.

The issue of Human Trafficking and sex slavery has garnered national and international attention in part through the articles of New York Times columnist  Nicholas  Kristof, who has written extensively about human trafficking all over the world, he also co-wrote “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” with Sheryl WuDunn.

The book, the currently number one  NY Times Bestseller, tells the stories of women across the globe who were trafficked and are now working to prevent something similar from happening to other women and  children.  It was the basis for the documentary of the same name that was aired last week on PBS.

The documentary was shot in 10 countries including Cambodia, India, Pakistan and the U.S., and shows Kristof travelling with celebrities America Ferrera, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan and Olivia Wilde among others to introduce women and girls who are living in extenuating circumstances and are fighting to change their lives.

According to the Half the Sky movement there are some estimates that say there are 27 million modern day slaves, and more than half of them are women. There is no clear estimate, as to how many victims are being sold in the U.S. because identifying victims is difficult.

However, according to statistics released by the Polaris Project, over 100,000 children are sex trafficked in the U.S. every year. Of the 19,427 calls received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center from victims in 2011, 15.6 percent of the calls came from California, according to the Polaris Project website.

This is incredibly disturbing, but not surprising, according to Farah Kader, co-founder of Not for Sale, a UC Berkeley club that advocates against human trafficking.

“People think that human trafficking is something that happens in other countries, but they don’t realize it is happening in the U.S., in California and it is happening in their cities,” Kader said. “People don’t think that human trafficking is an issue in California because the sex slave trade is completely underground.”

Prop 35 will bring the state closer to eliminating sex industries that endanger and exploit minor, according to Kader.

“It’s just unacceptable that the perpetrators of these crimes get weaker punishments than DUI’s,” she added.

Kader referred to the current law in California in which the highest penalty for trafficking is $100,000 and eight years in prison, which is less than the penalty for Driving under the influence, according to the prop 35 website.

Another part of the human trafficking issue not touched on by this proposition, is consuming products and services that are produced by people who are enslaved

With the growing popularity of shopping organic and consciously there has been a push to make sure food that is consumed is not created through slave labor. To address this, the website and smartphone application “Free2work” and encourages consumers to be conscious consumers.

These are all steps that people can take, “so we can end slavery in our lifetime,” Kader said.