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Election 2020: Get Your Ballot Ready With The KPBS Voter Guide

Prop. 35 Would Throw The Book At Human Traffickers

Reported by Katie Euphrat

This election day, Californians will vote on Proposition 35. If approved, the proposition would impose stiffer penalties and fines for people convicted of human and sex trafficking. The proposition has broad-based support, but KPBS reporter Adrian Florido tells us there are also concerns the changes under Prop. 35 could have some unintended consequences.

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Proposition 35 would send sex traffickers to prison for up to a life term.

— Jordanne was 18 the first time she was forced to sell herself for sex. She was drug addicted and living on the streets of northern California, and a friend introduced her to a man who said he could help her find work.

“So I went with him thinking it was just going to be some little chores or something,” she remembered recently, on the condition her last name be withheld. “It ended up with him being like, I need you to go onto the corner, you’re going to be making this quota for me, and you’re going to do it, or I’m going to hurt you.”

Now 23, she’s recovering at a San Diego home for victims of sex trafficking, but said she still fears the man who used threats and abuse to force her into prostitution for nearly six years.

“That’s how he kept me in line,” she said. "Making threats, beating me up, raping me. Where I was too scared to leave.”

Stories like Jordanne’s are the reason behind Proposition 35 on the November ballot.

It would impose tougher state prison terms on human traffickers – those who force people into sex work or other forced labor for their own financial gain.

If passed, the proposition would increase trafficking prison terms from 5-to-8-years to a minimum of 12 years in the case of labor trafficking, to a maximum life term in the case of sex trafficking of a minor. It would increase fines for convicted traffickers from $100,000 to up to $1.5 million --money that would go to fund programs that help trafficking victims recover.

It would also expand the definition of sex trafficking, to include the production of child pornography, and would require registered sex offenders to have their online identities tracked.

Prop. 35’s chief architect is a Bay-area victims’ advocate named Daphne Phung, and its main funder is former Facebook executive Chris Kelly. He’s donated nearly $2 million to the Yes on 35 campaign.

The proposition has broad support among law enforcement officials, Democrats and Republicans, and victims’ advocates across state -- people like Susan Munsey, director of Generate Hope, the victims’ home where Jordanne is recovering.

“It’s a heinous crime. It’s horrible what happens to the girls. It changes their lives in ways that are very difficult to heal from.”

FBI statistics place San Diego among the nation’s top sex-trafficking hubs.

“I think this initiative can move us in the other direction and really put some teeth into the laws,” Munsey said.

Brian Marvel, president of San Diego’s police union, says Prop. 35 would help victims because it will also require police officers to get training on how to identify sex trafficking victims.

Most people who have chimed in on Proposition 35 have applauded the initiative’s intent to protect victims of sex trafficking.

And while it has little organized opposition, it has also drawn criticism from some attorneys, victims’ advocates and even law enforcement officials who think the proposition, while well-intentioned, could have unintended consequences.

San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has said she’s concerned the law could actually make it harder for prosecutors to convict human traffickers, and even be dangerous for victims.

In addition to the tougher penalties, Prop. 35 would no longer allow prosecutors to hold people criminally liable for prostitution if they were forced into it. But Dumanis’ office told KQED that the ability to prosecute prostitutes is an important way that law enforcement can get them off the streets and free from their pimps.

Others have raised concerns over whether tougher penalties will actually do anything to put a dent in sex trafficking, which they consider a much more complex problem.

“It’s based on a presumption that more arrests and stiffer penalties are going to decrease the levels of trafficking,” said Ami Carpenter, a University of San Diego professor and member of a commission that advises San Diego County on the problem of sex trafficking.

“What we’ve found in San Diego works is a comprehensive approach where you have law enforcement, but you also have victims services providers at the table. You have community members,” she said.

Others, including major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, have opposed the proposition, saying existing penalties for human trafficking are sufficient. Federal law already provides for much stiffer sentences for human trafficking.

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