Little opposition has coalesced around Proposition 35, an initiative statute that increases penalties for human trafficking in California. From the middle of July through Sept. 13, support for Proposition 35 has hovered above 80 percent, according to survey conducted by the California Business Roundtable.
Proposition 35 defines more crimes related to the creation and distribution of obscene materials depicting minors as a form of human trafficking.
Under existing law, human trafficking is defined as committing certain felony crimes such as prostitution or obtaining forced labor or services, with prison sentences ranging from five to eight years depending on the age of the victim. The initiative expands the definition of human trafficking to include actions with the materials even if the offender had no contact with the victim.
It also expands criminal penalties for covered offenses to include fines up to $1.5 million and sentences of 15 years to life, depending on the age of the victim and whether force was involved. The sentence for forced sex trafficking of a minor increases from eight years under current law to life under the initiative. Fines for sex trafficking of a minor increase from $100,000 to $1.5 million.
The money from fines is required to be used to support services for victims of human trafficking. Seventy percent of funds would be allocated to public agencies and nonprofits that provide service to victims. The remaining 30 percent will go to law enforcement to be used for human trafficking prevention, witness protection and rescue operations.
Those convicted of sex trafficking would be forced to register as sex offenders, provide information about their Internet access and online identities and activities.
In addition, Proposition 35 prevents the use of evidence that the victim of human trafficking engaged in sexual conduct from being used in court against the victim. Nor can a person be prosecuted for this conduct if they were a victim of human trafficking.
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates one-time local government costs of up to a few million dollars on a statewide basis, with potential increases to state and local criminal justice costs as more human trafficking arrests, prosecutions and convictions result from funding for specific training for law enforcement in these issues.
Many of the opposition’s arguments center around hidden liability costs associated with enforcement and that fines will never be sufficient to cover those expenses. Thus another unfunded expense will be created.
The Erotic Services Providers Legal, Education and Research Project opposes the measure but no opposition funding has been listed with the California Secretary of State. The measure is challenged for its vague wording, which could have the effect of casting a broad criminal net sweeping up those who engage or profit from consentual prostitution among adults.
A long list of law enforcement agencies, churches and nonprofits that serve the disadvantaged endorse the measure. A “yes” vote increases existing penalties, fines and offenses covered. A “no” vote keeps the less stringent laws in place.