Voters in November will vote on Proposition 35, or the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act, a bipartisan law that proponents say would fight human trafficking through prevention, protection, prosecution and by increasing victims’ access to rehabilitation programs.
The proposition was drafted in response to the outcry of supporters who claim that the penalties are not sufficient to combat the crime.
Critics of the law say it could lead to abusive power in asset seizure and lengthening sentences for pimps involved in prostitution rackets. Supporters say this is precisely what the state needs, considering several large cities in California rank among the worst for child prostitution in the country.
Human trafficking is the second largest, fastest growing criminal industry in the world, with 27 million victims worldwide and an annual profit of $32 billion, according to the 2012 U.S. State Department Trafficking In Persons Report.
In the prevention stage, Proposition 35 would mandate human trafficking training for law enforcement so officials can more easily identify sex trafficking victims and recognize them as victims and not criminals.
Also adhering to combating human trafficking in this stage and the protection stage, Proposition 35 would require that all sex traffickers register as sex offenders and disclose their Internet accounts.
“Since Prop. 35 would require sex traffickers to disclose their online accounts, we can better monitor what’s going on online, which puts out a ‘We are watching you’ feel,” said Daphne Phung, leading CASE Act lobbyist and executive director of California Against Slavery. “This would certainly control and prevent sex traffickers from ever starting to prey on their victims, many of whom are children. Prop. 35 stops sex traffickers’ careers from even starting.”
The measure would also increase prison terms and fines—up to $1.5 million—for human traffickers. Fines would help fund victim services, which would widely increase access to such services, as President Obama outlined in his anti-human trafficking agenda.
Opponents of the legislation argue that police training and increased incarceration for sex traffickers under the CASE Act will cost the state too much money.
However, language of the bill states that the training is a one-time fee and advocates of Proposition 35, like Phung, say that although there would be an increase in sex traffickers behind bars, the overall number of imprisoned criminals would actually decrease.
“Many victims of sex trafficking use drugs and are even paid by their pimps with drugs, so we citizens are already paying for their healthcare,” Phung said. “We would be alleviated of this cost if we help take these girls off the street through the preventative measures supported by Prop. 35. Most pimps control a number of victims, so for each pimp in jail, we might be saving health care costs of a multitude of victims.”
While some argue that the CASE Act is too vague, human trafficking experts say the proposition would be extremely effective due to its understanding of the scope of the intricacies of human trafficking and how to fight it, beginning at its roots.
“Any effort to fight human trafficking must have a strong collaborative nature,” said Sherri Harris, project director for the Network of Emergency Trafficking Services, Salvation Army. “Without collaboration, victims cannot be properly cared for.”
The components of Proposition 35, like the requirement of sex offenders to disclose their online accounts, will make predators visible to the public and to law enforcement, which could help in identifying sex traffickers quickly. Mark Latonero, director of research and instruction at USC Annenberg Center on Leadership and Policy, said this newly established visibility factor is crucial in the fight against human trafficking.
“For the first time, something that was once invisible is now visible,” said Latonero, who is heading a research team that is developing anti-human trafficking technologies. “This visibility is directly placed into the hands of experts and professionals who are able to help human trafficking victims.”