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California Proposition 35 Increases Human Trafficking Penalties

by Bob Morris, published

Human trafficking is forcing a person into prostitution or making them to work against their will. California Prop 35 increases human trafficking penalties by expanding its definition and increasing the severity of sentences and fines. For example, a defendant can no longer claim they did not know the person was a minor. Prop 35, to clear up a possible source of confusion, does not apply to human smuggling, which is bringing people across the border illegally (except of course if those smuggled are then forced into labor or prostitution.)

Proposition 35:
  • Increases criminal penalties for human trafficking, including prison sentences up to 15-years-to-life and fines up to $1,500,000.
  • Fines collected to be used for victim services and law enforcement.
  • Requires person convicted of trafficking to register as sex offender.
  • Requires sex offenders to provide information regarding Internet access and identities they use in online activities.
  • Prohibits evidence that victim engaged in sexual conduct from being used against victim in court proceedings.
  • Requires human trafficking training for police officers.

Among its more controversial measures, Prop 35 prohibits using evidence that a person was involved in prostitution if they were coerced or under 18. Further, it bans attacking the sexual behavior of a victim in court to undermine their credibility.

These provisions concern both the No on 35 campaign and the Sacramento Bee, which also opposes Prop 35, saying the proposition is well-intended but flawed.

Some prosecutors worry that the initiative's broad wording will undermine their ability to prosecute traffickers. It also makes the "commercial sexual act of a victim inadmissible to attack the credibility or impeach the character of the victim in any civil or criminal proceeding." In doing so, the proposition may also deprive accused traffickers of a fair trial, making it vulnerable to constitutional challenges.

The Sacramento Bee is also concerned that some who have not committed sexual offenses might have to register as sex offenders and wonders how law enforcement will manage handling the sometimes dozens of screen names used by 90,000 registered offenders who would be mandated to report all of them on a continuing basis.

The California Council of Churches also opposes Prop 35 saying it "eradicates any aspect of human trafficking other than sex slavery, and this is a dangerous and irresponsible action."

The Yes on 35 campaign strongly urges voters to vote for it.

Proposition 35 will deter traffickers with higher penalties and fines, use fines to fund victim services, remove barriers to prosecute child sex traffickers, mandate training for law enforcement officers, require convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders, require all sex offenders to disclose Internet accounts, and protect victims in court proceedings. Additionally, the Prop 35 will raise awareness and unite Californians to take action. With up to 17 million voters, this will form the largest single movement against human trafficking in the U.S.

Voters are encouraged to study what both sides say. More information on Proposition 35 can be found on the IVN Election Center.

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