Scratch beneath the surface: A deeper look at CA's proposition 35

Monday, October 29, 2012

By Sonya Mendoza

Okay Californians, we're in the countdown. Not only do we have to vote for President, state assembly, etc, but there are also all those propositions! This November 6th, there are eleven for us to vote on, and many of them have titles that make it seem like a no brainer to vote yes or no.

One of those, Proposition 35, the “Increased Penalties for Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery,” proposition, has a title that seems like an instant no brainer. Human trafficking is bad. Sex slavery is bad. There's nothing to argue about there! However, when we read between the lines and look a little closer at 35, we can see that this badly thought out propositon is not what it seems.

For starters, California lawmakers who have both written anti-trafficking laws AND prosecuted traffickers IN THIS STATE have come out fervently against this law. One of them, who wrote California's current anti-trafficking law AB-22, sums up prop. 35 like this:

“Instead of promoting the positive rights of human trafficking survivors, the CASE Act [prop. 35] focuses solely on prohibition, pouring more resources into the criminalization of trafficking, while simultaneously taking away protection and relief for victims.”

----Kathleen Kim, professor of law at Loyola Law School and co-author of AB-22, the Califronia Trafficking Victims Protection Act

Oh goody! Just what California needs! More money for for policing and prisons, right? Because we don't already spend much of the state's budget on arresting and incarcerating people. I know what you are thinking: “Well if we're using it to jail traffickers, then its ok, right?”

Yeah it would be okay, except for the fact that proposition 35 does little to distinguish people who do consensual sex work to make a living from people that exploit and control others for monetary gain. The broad and vague terms the law uses to define "human trafficking" could lead to unintended consequences, like being brought up on trafficking charges if you're a child of someone that does consensual sex work and benefits from their earnings. Or, perhaps you have a friend who is a sex worker and you drop them off at work, or hold money for them, this could be construed as trafficking. We already have so many laws that criminilize pimps and prostitutes in Caifornia, so why do we need one more? And one that further blurs the line between coersive and consensual sex?

Prop. 35 is trying to convince Californians that we don't already have stringent laws against trafficking written by people who are well educated in the field and have dealt with survivors and prosecuted traffickers. And if we do need more anti-trafficking laws, we need them to be well written, concise and clear for the voters, and most of all, survivor centered. Because even if a trafficker gets put in prison, that doesn't mean that the quality of life for a survivor is instantly better. It takes resources and community support to improve quality of life, and Prop. 35 does not do it.

Sonya is a freelance writer, dj, dog walker, community organizer, and horror movie watcher. You can get in touch with her at