Panel debates California human trafficking proposition

On October 23, the Program on Human Rights at Stanford's Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law sponsored a panel discussion on Proposition 35. On the 2012 California ballot, proposition 35 - Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE Act) - calls for increased awareness of human trafficking and for provisions to deter perpetrators of this crime.

The provisions of the CASE Act include:

  • increasing prison terms for human traffickers
  • requiring convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders
  • requiring all registered sex offenders to disclose their Internet accounts
  • requiring criminal fines from convicted human traffickers to pay for services to help victims
  • mandating law enforcement training on human trafficking

Panel members included experts in the anti-human trafficking field from across the San Francisco Bay Area.

Proponents of the CASE Act included: Oakland Police Department Sergeant Holly Joshi, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, and the CASE Act draftee, Daphne Phung. They argued that the CASE Act will not only raise awareness, but also work to make a bold statement as a state and a society on the status of these crimes.

According to Phung, “The current legal and judicial systems are not protecting victims, and what it would take 30 years for the legislature to Prop 35 can do in one day in California.” Joshi also argued that the CASE Act would fill in the gaps in current legislation, assist in law enforcement training, and keep traffickers off the streets with longer prison sentences.

Critics of the CASE Act pointed out the flaws in adopting a broad approach that does not put the victims needs at the center of the debate. The increased fines under the CASE Act will leave victims without compensation in civil court, Kathleen Kim, a professor from Loyola Law School, argued. The need to hold traffickers personally accountable by victims is paramount. John Vanek, a retired lieutenant from the San Jose Police Department Human Trafficking Task Force, said that increased prison sentence simply doesn’t work and that these complex issues require the combined efforts of anti-trafficking professionals in the field.

"It incorrectly asserts that increased penalties and fines will provide prosecution and protections for trafficking survivors rather than a comprehensive approach," said Cindy Liou, an attorney at the Asian and Pacific Islander Legal Outreach.