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Proposition 35, the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act (CASE) aims to address the increasing prevalence and public concern regarding human trafficking in California, specifically as it relates to the sexual exploitation of children. It proposes to do this by greatly increasing the existing sentences and penalties for trafficking offenses, and expands sex offender registration laws, including new mandates to report email addresses and internet usernames. Prop. 35 would also broaden the definition of human trafficking to include crimes related to the distribution of obscene materials, regardless of if the offender has no contact with the minor depicted. 

California must protect its most vulnerable populations from cruelty. Human trafficking is an exploitative and ever-changing underground industry that requires a nuanced and well-designed response from law enforcement, community-based organizations, and faith-based communities. However, as the Los Angeles Times notes, voters must be satisfied that the proposed measure would help, that it is the best approach to solving the problem, and that the benefits created would outweigh any unintended consequences. 

Prop. 35 does not stand up to this level of scrutiny. As UC Hastings Prof. Hadar Aviram discusses, Prop. 35 creates cumbersome and unnecessary sentencing enhancements that are poor deterrents to organized crime and would contribute to an already costly, aging, and infirm state prison population. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), very few perpetrators of human trafficking are actually sentenced to prison, and as of March 2012 there were only 18 such offenders in state prison. Prof. Aviram explains that increased criminal penalties are only deterrent if there is a high likelihood of apprehension. In addition, she notes that the proposed expansions to sex offender registration requirements are unenforceable and will have minimal impact on public safety. 

Prop 35’s approach to human trafficking is short sighted. Besides its failure to address the complexities of the human trafficking industry, the measure does little to increase the protections for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Most victims of trafficking are afraid to come forward because they fear retaliation from their captors, fear deportation, or mistrust the police. However, there are no provisions in Prop. 35 to ameliorate those concerns regarding safeguards for victims who contact law enforcement. 

Prop 35’s ad hoc approach to a complex area of organized crime and criminal justice policy is not an appropriate way to determine state criminal justice priorities or to address the underlying social needs of affected communities. In fact, the California Legislature adopted significant anti-trafficking legislation this year after extensive consultation with law enforcement and legal experts, and continues to systematically address the problem through an evolving and thoughtful legislative process. 

Criminal justice policy should be made through detailed data-driven analyses that incorporate the complexities of the criminal element, the realities of the state correctional system, and the needs of impacted communities. For this reason, CJCJ opposes Proposition 35.