Last month, I wrote that I was supporting Proposition 35. But now, after speaking with others working in the field of preventing human trafficking, I have changed my mind. The polls on Proposition 35 show almost 90 percent of the people will vote for it. Who wouldn’t vote for a ballot measure that increases fines and penalties for human traffickers? Proposition 35 seeks to alter current state laws regarding human trafficking by expanding the definition and increasing the punishment for those convicted of human trafficking crimes. On the face that sounds like a great way to increase the penalties for terrible crimes against youth and adults forced into prostitution or slavery. However, the devil is in the details.
As with all new ballot measures that seek to codify changes in the law, this ballot initiative could have unintended consequences. The ambiguous language and broad definition of “human trafficker” could include a neighbor who helps another neighbor’s teenager with a safe place to stay for the night; or an18-year-old boyfriend of a 17-year-old minor could be charged with human trafficking. A strong voice against Proposition 35 is John Vanek, a retired Lieutenant from SJPD who managed the human trafficking task force.
The nonprofit agency that is currently taking a lead on efforts to combat human trafficking, Community Solutions, has also come out against Proposition 35. The CEO makes some strong arguments against supporting the measure.
Fortunately, there are other alternatives. There are currently bills working their way through the State Legislature that would add penalties and fines to human trafficking. Also, California Attorney General Kamala Harris convened a State Human Trafficking Work Group that is set to issue a report with recommendations this fall. I now think that Proposition 35 should not be supported and we should wait for the legislative process to work.
Here are a few more details about Prop 35 from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, California’s nonpartisan fiscal policy advisor, and the League of Women Voters of California, which lists the pros and cons.
Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.