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Prop. 35 Would Throw The Book At Human Traffickers

Stories like Jordanne's, who was forced into prostitution at age 18, are the reason behind Proposition 35, which would toughen penalties for human traffickers
Adrian Florido
Stories like Jordanne's, who was forced into prostitution at age 18, are the reason behind Proposition 35, which would toughen penalties for human traffickers
Prop 35: Stricter Penalities for Sex Trafficking
Prop. 35 Would Throw The Book At Human Traffickers
Adrian Florido - Reporter for KPBS News Chris Kelly - Founder of Safer California Foundation Dr. Ami C. Carpenter - School of Peace Studies University of San Diego

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition is a controversy among advocates for victims of human trafficking over an anti human trafficking measure on the November ballot. Proposition 35 would among other things increase penalties for convicted traffickers and have them register as sex offenders. But the devil is in the detail for opponents who say the new proposal could make it more difficult to get girls who were forced into prostitution off the streets. KPBS reporter Adrian Florido prepared this feature on prop 35. ADRIAN FLORIDO: Jordan is 28 and lives in San Diego housing for victims of sex trafficking. She asked we only use her first name because she's recovering from almost 6 years of forced prostitution and she still afraid of her pimp. She remembers when things went wrong. She was looking for a job and a friend introduced her to a man who said he could help. NEW SPEAKER: I was going with them thinking it was I don't know just when to be some little chores or whatever. It ended up where he was like I need you to go in the corner and you are going to be making this quota for me and you're going to do it or I'm going to hurt you. I mean that's how he kept me in line was making threats and beating me up and raping me. That made it where I was too scared to leave. ADRIAN FLORIDO: Stories like Jordan's are the reason behind prop 35 on the November ballot. The proposition would impose tougher penalties on human traffickers. Those who force people into sex work or other forced labor for their own financial gain. If passed, prop 35 would increase trafficking prison terms from 5 to 8 years to a minimum of 12 years and a maximum of life. It would increase fines for convicted traffickers from two hundred thousand up to 1.5 million, which is money used to fund programs that help trafficking victims recovery. 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 activities tracked. The preposition has broad support among law enforcement officials Democrats and Republicans and many victims groups across the state. NEW SPEAKER: It's a heinous crime for about what happens to the girls. Changes their lives in ways that they are very difficult to heal from. ADRIAN FLORIDO: Susan Muncy is the director of generate hope, the home where 28-year-old Jordan is recovering. She cites FBI statistics that play San Diego donations top sex trafficking hubs. NEW SPEAKER: I think this initiative can move us in the other direction and really put some teeth into the loss. ADRIAN FLORIDO: Prop 35's architect is a Bay Area victims advocate named Daphne (Fon) and main funder is former Facebook executive Chris Kelly. He's donated nearly 2 million dollars to the yes on 35 campaign. The preposition has little organized opposition, but some attorneys advocates and researchers say it is flawed. Stephen (Mathilde) is a defense attorney who testified in Sacramento. NEW SPEAKER: Sometimes just punishment imposing penalties is the most effective way to address the problem. ADRIAN FLORIDO: Amy Carpenter is University of San Diego professor who researches human trafficking and she agrees. NEW SPEAKER: For one thing it's based on a presumption that more arrests and stiffer penalties are going to decrease the level of trafficking. What we found in San Diego works is a comprehensive approach where you have trained law enforcement which prop 35 provides for, but you also have victims services providers at the table, you have community members. ADRIAN FLORIDO: Even San Diego Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis has concerns saying prop 35 could actually make it harder to save victims from their pimps. The proposition would no longer allow prosecution of people forced into prostitution. But some prosecutors say sometimes guiltily to freedom from their beds and get them help. But Brian Marvel president of the San Diego police officers union says prop 35 would help victims by requiring police officers to get training on how to identify them. NEW SPEAKER: This is just really on the cusp of opening it up and giving the officers the education so they can more easily identify that this is a human trafficking victim. ADRIAN FLORIDO: Jordan says the proposition would help her in one more way. She eventually wants to press charges against her paper but says many women are afraid to because they fear revenge when the present term is over. NEW SPEAKER: Even if I had reported him he's going to know it was being ADRIAN FLORIDO: Some prop 35 opponents counter that safety is a concern. Traffickers could be prosecuted under federal law, which already provides for much longer sentences. In San Diego I'm Adrian Florido. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And here in studio are my guests KPBS reporter Adrian Florido. Adrian, welcome. ADRIAN FLORIDO: Thanks Maureen. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Chris Kelly is on the line with us. He's the founder of safer California foundation and he supports prop 35. Chris welcome to the program. CHRIS KELLEY: Thank you very much for having me MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Dr. Amy Carpenter of the school of peace studies at the University of San Diego is also joining us, welcome. AMY CARPENTER: Thank you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Adrian, you did the piece. You have something you wanted to add to it. ADRIAN FLORIDO: I wanted to make a quick correction I said in the piece that the minimum term would be 12 years, that's actually the maximum term for forced labor trafficking. The minimum term for the same offense would be five years. And so the range under prop 35 would be from five years minimum for labor trafficking, then it kind of tears up from there to a maximum of life for forced sex trafficking of a minor. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me take a wider view of your piece, Adrian, it sounds from the people who you talk to is if advocates for victims of human trafficking are generally gratified that at least this issue is on the ballot. At least it's being talked about. ADRIAN FLORIDO: Yeah I spoke to a number of people for this piece and that was kind of the prevailing sentiment I think that I heard sort of across the board regardless of people actually stood on the positions of the preposition itself people for the most part were grateful that at least people are paying attention to the issue of labor and sex trafficking which, here in California is a pretty significant problem according to FBI research at of some stuff. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did you find out why this became a ballot measure that we are going to be voting on instead of an issue handled by lawmakers? ADRIAN FLORIDO: I think this might be something that Chris might be able to speak to a little bit more knowledgeably, But--- CHRIS KELLEY: I will be happy to speak to that in a minute, but go ahead ADRIAN FLORIDO: The group that sponsored the bill and preposition to my understanding they have over the last couple years been trying to sort of put this through the legislative process in Sacramento but when you think about the kind of political climate right now especially around prisons and the huge problem that our prisons face in terms of overcrowding where the real drive is to try to decrease prison populations that there's a very small event a chance at all the legislators be willing to stiffer penalties which are going to key people in prison for longer periods of time. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Chris Kelly was that the issue they found a stumbling block in trying to get lawmakers to implement tougher penalties for sex traffickers? CHRIS KELLEY: Yes, there were a number of different issues and resistance points. But one of them was not wanting to impose longer prison sentences for anything for any reason. That seems to be something that is held by some of the key, belief held by some of the key members of the legislative committees. My separate work on the online aspect is this was also blocked for ideological reasons and the public safety committees despite the fact that we had implemented the Internet identifiers for sex offenders with Andrew Cuomo a New York state has been responsible for the removal of more than 25,000 convicted sex offenders from social networks it's been an extraordinarily successful move but there was resistance on the part of the legislature which I found extraordinarily surprising. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Indeed, you support, you are one of the founding people who are supporting this measure who are behind this measure. I'm just wondering what did you see lacking in current laws against sex trafficking that this measure corrects? CHRIS KELLEY: The piece measured the difference between the differences in federal and state law we thought that harboring them and being able to push prosecutors on the state level being able to prosecute the times instead of trying to keep their stats up with prostitution busts would be a good thing. Without the training for prosecutors and for line law enforcement so that they could identify instead when they pick up the 14-year-old on the street to ask her the questions that they need to ask about who put her there and how she got there. That is a change in culture that we needed radical way. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Amy Carpenter, you study human trafficking and you are a member of the city go regional human trafficking advisory Council. We heard in Adrian's feature to your sort of thing you know, increased penalties, we find that that kind of deterrence doesn't necessarily work. Why is that? AMY CARPENTER: Well I think there are two issues here and I want first to say to Chris that I think one of the great strengths of prop 35 is that it does provide law enforcement with training. This is something that folks and say do have been asking for for some time. But it is, the problem that I hear, the people in the law enforcement community talk to me about is the fact that prosecutions are difficult in part because it's really hard for victims to come forward because they're scared of the immigration service are afraid of the trafficker there seems to be a presumption in the measure that imposing longer sentences and harsher fines will encourage victims to come forward and I've heard from victim service providers that that is simply not likely to be the case. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Amy, actually this measure would also make it more difficult, some people say would make it more difficult to get victims off the street because they couldn't be charged with anything is that right? AMY CARPENTER: It sounds counterintuitive but that is absolutely right. This, 35 would disallow prosecuting victims, I called prostitutes victims and that is the terminology I used, but to prosecute them based on past misdemeanors or a sexual act in their past history, so victim service providers will look at that and say this is a good thing because we don't want to be treating these victims like criminals in the sense that we are badgering him on the stand and locking them up. But if you talk to folks to the attorney's office and sheriffs in PD they will say this is our only mechanism so far for separating these girls from their traffickers and is not an ideal environment. But it is the only way that we have two separate this young woman or this boy from the trafficker long enough to try to get through them to provide social services, to get them into a safe house if that's what they can do. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Indeed Chris stated the Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis says prop 35 sort of negates their opportunity to be able to, I wonder if you are still on the line with us, Chris? No, we've lost him, okay. Chris, are you there? CHRIS KELLEY: Yes can you hear me MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes I can, Maureen. I was following up with what Amy was saying about the Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis says prop 35 sort of takes one of their weapons away they cannot go out and they cannot go out and basically arrest victims of sex trafficking anymore and sometimes that's the only way to get them off the street. CHRIS KELLEY: I think that's based on a misinterpretation of the law. What it provides for is the immunity in the case of a trafficking prosecution. So it does not prevent the arrest of somebody for prostitution in that initial case. He has an evidentiary protection for how that prosecution goes, but doesn't the arrest always had extensive conversations--- MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, let me thank you Chris very much for being a part of our conversation. One of your other criticisms, Amy is that this could've been a better proposition had more antitrafficking groups been involved in making this proposition. How do you see that working out? What would have been better about this proposition? AMY CARPENTER: Well, that the preposition of my own for which I have no empirical evidence. I am basing it on my experiences working with the advisory Council in San Diego for the past year and a half where we've debated and extensively discussed the case act prop 35. I will give you three examples of legislation that were developed with a wider group of stakeholders involved and that look a little different. HR 575, both that and Senate Bill S2975 give the block grants to state and local governments in the requirements to receive that funding is that they have to come up with a work plan that is holistic that involves investigations prosecutions and deterrence. That includes the establishment of shelters for sex trafficking victims which we have an absolute dearth of. That provides comprehensive services to domestic minor victims and examples of those services are crisis intervention programs, safehouses, community-based programs in addition to law enforcement training. One of these as 596 which is the domestic minor sex trafficking deterrence and victim support act, long name requires a 76% be used in direct service and protection for shelter victims. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Having said that, having noticed that there are flaws in this particular proposition and noting that there are other ways of going about this that may be more productive, isn't it better, would you say that it was better to vote for something like this and get tougher legislation on the books against sex trafficking even if it is not perfect? AMY CARPENTER: I'm not going to endorse one way or another the preposition. But I will say that clearly prop 35 shines a spotlight on human trafficking. It's generated quite a bit of media attention around the issue for which all advocates are grateful. Perhaps people have taken the time to read the legislation and come to an informed opinion, but I will say that the Polaris Project reported last year that statewide advocacy campaigns are actually the best mechanism for raising awareness and shining a spotlight on this issue. So you know, I can't predict what will happen if the proposition passes. I do know that it can be amended by a simple majority of votes in the state legislature so we may see Sacramento getting involved at some point down the line. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay so that is part and parcel of this proposition has ability to be amended by the legislature. Okay, well I want to thank my guests very much KPBS reporter Adrian Florido, Dr. Amy Carpenter and Chris Kelly who we lost halfway through thank you all very much for taking part. ADRIAN FLORIDO: Thanks Maureen, AMY CARPENTER: Thanks for having me. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A reminder the KPBS voter guide breaks down the major issues and races and to clear language. You will find it at KPBS.org/voter guide.

Prop. 35 Would Throw The Book At Human Traffickers
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.