Prop 35: Sex traffic law vaguely expands police power

by Heather Rushall

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Proposition 35, if passed, will create harsher punishments for those who participate in the sex trafficking industry. These punishments include prison sentences up to 15-years-to-life and fines up to $1.5 million. Those who are convicted would also be required to register as sex offenders, receive limitations to Internet access and would be supervised by law enforcement.

The new legislation would also require special training for police officers to assist in cracking down on prostitutes, pimps and other sex trafficking participants. Completion of the training would be required of all state and local peace officers no later than July 1, 2014, or within six months of being assigned to the field, and would be at least two hours long.

Currently the crackdown on sex trafficking is mainly overseen by the federal government, not by the state.

The numbers are not clear, but anticipated costs to state and local governments are, “not likely to exceed a few million dollars annually,” according to the official Voter Information Guide. That said, anticipated revenues from the new criminal fines would likely generate a “few million dollars annually.”

Currently, federal law defines sex trafficking as an act, “in which persons are recruited, transported or obtained for a commercial sex act that is induced by force or fraud or in which the victim performing the act is under age 18. An example of sex trafficking is forcing a person into prostitution.” Similarly, labor trafficking is all of the above, except no sex is involved. The example given is, “forcing a foreign national to work for free by threatening deportation.”

State law, however, defines sex trafficking as “violating the liberty of a person with the intent to either (1) commit certain felony crimes (such as prostitution) or (2) obtain forced labor or services.”

Proposition 35 expands these definitions on a state level to include the “distribution of obscene materials depicting minors as a form of human trafficking.” In this case, duplicating or selling materials depicting a minor is considered sex trafficking, even if the merchant had no contact with the minor.

Furthermore, prosecutors are not required to prove force or coercion.

Other changes in Proposition 35 would include special programs for trafficking victims, changes in court proceedings and expanded registration for sex offenders.

Opinion:

Proposition 35 initially seems like cut-and-dry legislation, but the potential harm to innocent sex workers and the fiscal impact could make this proposition a total failure.

Because the expanded definition of trafficking includes creation and distribution, the owners of sex shops could now be targeted. Campaigns against Proposition 35 also argue most sexual workers are doing their jobs consensually. Because the law doesn’t require prosecutors to prove the use of force or coercion, virtually anyone can be prosecuted.

“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,” Maxine Doogan and Manual Jimenez, President and chief financial officers of Erotic Service Providers Legal, respectively, said in the argument against Proposition 35.

Aside from loosely written definitions of who may be considered a sex offender and the new requirements for all of them to register as such, the fiscal impact of Proposition 35 is severely neglected in its official title and summary in the official Voter Information Guide.

Presenting a new state cost as “not likely to exceed a few million dollars annually” and not giving any idea where the money would come from, how it would be spent and whether or not there would be a cost cap if the proposition passes leaves a lot of questions unanswered. California is going broke and taking on a costly new jurisdiction previously enforced by the federal government is asking a lot from state taxpayers. There is no mention of block grants from the federal government or other funds set aside to cover the costs of enforcing this brand new set of laws.

There are very few heartless souls who are pro-sex trafficking and trust me, I am not one of them, but this proposition is poorly written and far too vague in its intentions. California voters are having their heartstrings fondled by the government and this proposition has the potential to wrongfully jail thousands of consensual sex workers, escorts, exotic dancers, pornography industry workers and sex shop owners. Vote no on Proposition 35 and demand it be rewritten to truly protect the sex trafficking victims who need it.

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