By Amy Roost
Who could be in favor human trafficking? I’m certainly not. On that, Dick and I agree. However, while Proposition 35 is well intentioned, it is not the best way to go about remedying this despicable crime.
First, the obvious. Human trafficking, because it most often involves the crossing of state and/or international borders, is usually a federal offense. Thus, if passed, Proposition 35 would mean throwing state tax dollars at a crime that is already being addressed — applying stiffer sentences — with our federal tax dollar.
Second, the initiative has broad and vague wording. Some prosecutors have expressed concern that this will lead to convictions being thrown out by the courts.
Third, the proposition would make commercial prostitution inadmissible evidence in the prosecution of traffickers. This provision could lead to constitutional challenges because the sex trafficker would in effect be denied a fair trial if evidence were thrown out prior to trial.
Fourth, the measure actually threatens innocent people by broadening the definition of pimping: anyone receiving financial support from consensual prostitution among adults, including a sex worker’s children or spouse, could be prosecuted as a human trafficker. If convicted, they would have to register as a sex offender for life.
Fifth, I’m opposed in principle to mandatory sentencing — for any crime. Why even have judges if all the sentencing is done by default? Mandatory sentencing is the sweetheart of corporate America because it leads to an even higher incarceration rate, thus is the easiest way to justify building more private prisons.
Sixth, Gov. Brown recently signed a series of bills aimed at cracking down on human trafficking in California. One measure allows courts to “seize and freeze” a defendant’s assets during prosecution. Another measure expands the list of assets subject to forfeiture upon a human trafficking conviction. A third piece of signed legislation requires certain businesses, including bars, strip clubs and truck stops, to post notices advertising telephone tip lines for members of the public and victims of human trafficking. Partial credit for these laws goes to the authors of Proposition 35 for shining a spotlight on the issue of human trafficking and getting the state Legislature to move off its duff.
Finally, Proposition 35 as well as the bills passed in Sacramento, justifiably address the symptoms of human trafficking, however, ignore the causes.
It is estimated that over one million women in the United States have been lured into full-time prostitution — most for economic reasons. When roughly one in every six American men has been a willing client of a prostitute, prostitution is — rightly or wrongly — the easiest way for a woman to make a quick buck in this country.
Likewise, victims of human trafficking are lured into the sex trade or slave-like conditions in sweatshops or janitorial service or farms in an attempt to escape poverty, political upheaval and violence in their home countries. Prostitution is the golden ticket that gets them to the “land of opportunity.” Many trafficking victims actively resist rescue because they don’t want to be returned to the hellish conditions from which they came. If we really want to help victims of sex trafficking, then we should make it easier for them to obtain a U.S. visa once they are here rather than deporting them back to the conditions they were so desperate to escape. An even more proactive approach would be to direct more foreign aid to the most impoverished nations around the globe. However, I realize this is pie-in-the-sky thinking. Lobbyists for the defense industry would never allow for it.
I agree with Dick that human traffickers should be held accountable for their crimes, but if society is to go beyond Band Aid reforms, and enact meaningful, long-lasting policies that actually protect the potential victims human trafficking to begin with, we must address the root cause of selling one’s body for money — inequality. This includes not only gender inequality but nation-state inequality.