Prop. 35 would beef up current human trafficking penalties

In addition to the many propositions on the ballot this November, voters will get the chance to decide on an issue with ramifications that will reach far beyond the state.

If passed, Proposition 35 will impose stiffer penalties for convicted human traffickers. Among the proposed penalties are increased prison terms and fines, but the proposition also includes a mandate for human trafficking training of law enforcement and for sex offenders to disclose their online account information.

As defined by U.S. federal law, human trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, debt bondage or slavery.

Proponents of the bill state that while prisons are dealing with overcrowding, those institutions were meant for human traffickers, who are “driven by greed, are instigating rape and torture on children and women, and treating people like lifeless and soulless things,” according to the California Against Sexual Exploitation Act website.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing and second largest criminal industry in the world today, right behind drug trafficking and illegal arms, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We do realize that sex trafficking is high in San Francisco,” said Jasmin Taylor, assistant director of the SF State Women’s Center and senior journalism student.

However, she sees some faults in the proposition that she thinks need to be worked out.

“What would they be doing beyond training police officers?” she asked. “We should be spending more money on education, not on putting these people in prison.”

Others are even more dissatisfied with the proposition and believe that people might be misled to vote yes.

“We are concerned about the effects this ballot measure will have on trafficked victims, sex workers and our families, as well as voters who are being misled about what this ballot measure will do,” said Maxine Doogan, who is president of the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational and Research Project.

Doogan said that the ESPLER Project submitted the opponent’s portion of the proposition’s summary offered in the voter guide. She is concerned that the proposition has several flaws, mainly that the proposition wouldn’t fix human trafficking because it focuses on prostitution rather than the labor aspect of human trafficking.

“It’s an anti-prostitution piece of legislation, plain and simple,” she said. “We know that this law is not going to protect anybody.”

Zoe Woodcraft, a communications consultant for social change from Full Court Press Communications, works with Vote Yes on 35. Woodcraft referred to the website, which hosts several statements from Prop. 35 supporters. A couple of supporters claim to have been abused by human traffickers when they were between the ages of 12 and 14. Others just want to protect California’s women and children.

The Vote Yes on 35 website states that the proposition would heighten awareness and allow California residents to work on cleaning up the sex trafficking industry.

Prop. 35 states that 70 percent of revenue be collected from the projected fines would go to agencies and nonprofit groups providing direct services to victims. Another 30 percent would go toward trafficking prevention, witness protection and rescue operations.

It is estimated that annual state and local costs would total “a couple of million dollars” and rise if arrests increased. The costs would not be offset by revenue allocated to victims’ services.

Perla Flores, program director of the Women’s Center at SF State, said she thinks the proposition is a good stepping stone for what is already in place, but thinks the initiative could do more to fix the problem of human trafficking in the United States.

“Should we settle for whatever proposition is there, or should we try to make it better?” Flores asked.

Danielle Steffenhagen contributed to this report.