Proposition 35: Dragging Megan’s Law into the 21st Century

Megan’s Law namesake Megan Kanka

One benefit of Proposition 35 that has received little attention is the mandate to bridge Megan’s Law into the 21st Century. Together we can create a safer California by requiring all registered sex offenders to include Internet identifiers as a component of the registration process.

 

Sex offender registration and community notification, otherwise known as Megan’s Law, was adopted by all 50-states and the Federal government in the mid 1990’s. Megan’s Law is based on the premise that, because of their propensity to reoffend, convicted sex offenders pose a threat to society. Therefore, the public benefits by knowing where they live in the community.

 

The Internet was not the ubiquitous presence that it is today when Megan’s Law was enacted, so email addresses, IM handles and other Internet identifiers were not included as a component of the registration process. Prop 35 changes that by requiring registered sex offenders to provide email addresses, social networking profiles and other online identifiers so that social networking sites can scour relevant profiles from their online communities.

 

The concept of convicted sex offenders including their Internet identifiers as a component of the sex offender registration process is not new. It was successfully legislated in New York in 2008 and has thus far been responsible for removing more than 24,000 sex offender profiles from social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

 

Eighty-two percent of California’s 98,569 registered sex offenders are compliant. This means that they obey the terms of the law, disclose the personal, identifying, employment and other information that is required by the sex offender registration process. There is every reason to believe that once Prop 35 becomes law they will also include their Internet identifiers.

 

Since the California State Legislature has demonstrated an unwillingness to take these reasonable steps to protect kids who go online, Prop 35 will enable government to use this administrative procedure to stop sexual predators from using the Internet to prey on innocent children. By voting for Prop 35 California’s citizens can take control of our own future.

 

Proposition 35 will protect California’s children by increasing penalties against human traffickers and online predators, requiring convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders, requiring all registered sex offenders to provide authorities with information about their internet accounts, and using the fines against convicted traffickers to pay for victim services.

 

The days of allowing human traffickers and cyber-perverts to use the Internet to troll for innocent children can end now. So, join me, a huge bi-partisan coalition of elected officials, law enforcement agencies and fraternal organizations representing more than 90,000 sworn law enforcement personnel, and virtually every victim’s rights organization in California and vote YES on Proposition 35 when you step into the voting booth next Tuesday.

Vote Yes on Prop 35 to Stop Human Trafficking in California

By Sharmin Bock

As a prosecutor who has spent over a decade fighting human trafficking, I’ve seen the terrible human toll of sex trafficking in California. Every day, women and children are forced to sell their bodies, on the streets and online, for the financial gain of human traffickers.

 

I have helped to create and lead the first of its kind unit in the nation dedicated to recovering sexually exploited children and prosecuting those who profit from selling them.  Since 2006, this unit has prosecuted over 200 sex traffickers and supported the rescue of hundreds of children, some as young as 11 years old.

 

While our efforts have made a difference, we could’ve saved and prevented many more. California’s current laws are simply inadequate to confront the growing problem of human trafficking within our state.  A recent national study by a victims’ rights group gave California an “F” grade for its weak laws dealing with child sex trafficking.  Prop 35 eliminates the shortcomings of our existing law that is riddled with gaping loopholes through which children literally fall into the hands of traffickers waiting to profit from them.

 

Drug dealers, gangs and organized crime are moving into sex trafficking because the current penalties present very low risk for them.  Grotesquely, they realize that there is no better investment than selling children these days because the profit is high and risk is low. And while children and girls are increasingly sold online, current laws against sexual exploitation have not been updated to face 21st century realities. As a 23-year veteran prosecutor and proud Californian, I know we can do better.

 

That’s why I teamed up with advocates for victims to write Prop 35.  The language of Prop 35 is carefully written to confront the growing problem of human trafficking in our state.  It uses federal law as a guideline and draws on the first-hand experience of prosecutors and those who work to help victims.  For too long, victims have been mistreated while traffickers escape punishment.  Prop 35 protects victims in so many ways and, for the first time, clearly recognizes sex trafficking victims as victims and not “prostitutes.”

 

Prop 35 makes critical changes to California law by:

  • Increasing prison terms for all forms of human trafficking to match federal sentences.
  • Requiring convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders.
  • Requiring all registered sex offenders to disclose their internet accounts, as states such as New York already have.
  • Requiring criminal fines from convicted human traffickers to fund services to help victims.
  • Mandating human trafficking training for law enforcement.
  • Providing trafficking victims the same level of protection rape victims have under the Rape Shield Law.
  • Removing the requirement to prove force, fraud or coercion in a child sex trafficking case.

 

After so many years of working to stop human trafficking and strengthen our laws against this crime, it is a dream come true to see a comprehensive measure like Prop 35 on the ballot. There’s no doubt that Prop 35, once passed, will save lives. That’s why the measure has widespread, bipartisan support from survivors, anti-trafficking advocates, women’s rights groups, child advocates, faith-based organizations to major law enforcement organizations, lawmakers, and prosecutors.

 

The changes embedded in Prop 35 will save lives and taxpayer resources. You may have some questions about Prop 35.  Here are some answers to the questions we hear most often so you can make an informed choice.

 

Isn’t human trafficking just an international issue?

Many think that human trafficking is a third world problem.  But from my vantage point in the trenches, I can tell you that it’s a universal crisis occurring in our own backyard.  Domestic trafficking is no less serious when international borders are not crossed.  The risk and harm to a child is the same whether she is trafficked from China or within California, where the FBI has identified San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego as high intensity child sex trafficking areas. Prop 35 allows us to protect all children here in California.

 

What will Prop 35 cost?

The costs of Prop 35 are negligible.  The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) has reported Prop 35 will have a “minor increase in state and local criminal justice costs from increased penalties” and there would be potential one-time local costs of up to a few million statewide for police training. On the other hand, Prop 35 will generate new funds through criminal fines to pay for victims’ services to help survivors recover and become vital members of our communities.

 

The benefit of rescuing and healing our children far exceeds the very small expense associated with Prop 35. Moreover, helping survivors turn their lives around will pay dividends for generations. When exploited girls and boys are assisted, the criminal justice system will see savings through vast reductions in future arrests and burdens on the courts.  Given how strong and clear Prop 35 is, I predict that we will also see a reduction in trafficking in our state. Trafficking will no longer be easy money and convicted traffickers will be required to forfeit their assets.

 

The savings are huge, and will spare children yet not enslaved.

 

Would Prop 35 criminalize consensual behavior?

Absolutely not. Human trafficking entails profiting from the sexual exploitation of a child (who cannot legally consent to sexual conduct) or the use of force, fraud and coercion to compel an adult into forced labor or commercial sex acts against his/her will.  Prop 35 is narrowly tailored and specifically states that there must be criminal intent to violate the law.  Prop 35 not only requires the showing that the trafficker causes a child “to engage in a commercial sex act”  but also “with the intent to effect or maintain a violation of Section,” and it lists 12 different existing criminal sections in our state law.

 

Human trafficking is a brutal and clearly delineated crime that involves and requires proof the criminal intent (called mens rea) to exploit another human being for profit. PROP 35 is not something that could ever be triggered by mistake.

 

Prop 35 does not impact prostitution involving consensual adults. There are laws on the books against prostitution, but Prop 35 only covers cases where traffickers profit from the sexual exploitation of a child or the forced exploitation of an adult.

 

Why not address this in the Legislature?

Every year for the past five years, along with many others, I’ve been in Sacramento trying to improve our state’s human trafficking law. For instance, I worked on a bill that would update our anti-trafficking law to the national standard by removing the need to prove force in child sex trafficking cases. This bill was introduced three times, and died three times. However, the exact language of this bill, which sailed through the Assembly without any opposition, is now contained in Prop 35.

 

While our legislators have made commendable incremental progress, our laws are still inadequate. Californians simply cannot afford to let another day go by without a comprehensive human trafficking law that protects victims and those at risk within our own state.

 

Does Prop 35 broaden the definition of human trafficking?

The only change that Prop 35 makes to the current definition of human trafficking is the expansion of the list of trafficking violations to include the production of child pornography. However, the distribution of child pornography would only be included if the distributor specifically caused the child to engage in the sexual act, such as if a trafficker is attempting to sell children online by making them appear in a pornographic video. There are laws on the books to fight the possession and distribution of child pornography, and Prop 35 will not augment them.  Other than this specific change, Prop 35 does not change the categories of violations currently listed in state law. The measure clarifies the definition of coercion by mirroring the definition in the federal law.

 

Does Prop 35 unfairly limit the ability of accused traffickers to defend themselves in court?

No. Prop 35 simply levels the playing field for victims who can currently be intimidated out of their rights.  The measure provides trafficked victims the same level of protection that rape victims currently receive under the Rape Shield Law.  Like the federal human trafficking law, Prop 35 removes the requirement to prove force in child sex trafficking cases. Prop 35 provides victims with evidentiary protection when testifying against their traffickers. Specifically, evidence that the victims engaged in a commercial sex act (such as prostitution) as a result of being a victim of human trafficking cannot be used to prosecute them. Victims will be able to face their exploiters in a court of law without fear of prosecution, and defendants will maintain the right to mount a full defense in court.

 

Final Thoughts

Prop 35 gives prosecutors, police and advocates the tools we need to fight this very important fight. Prop 35 is a comprehensive and effective response to an epidemic that plagues our state and must be stopped in order to protect our children from what is – no matter how you look at it – modern day slavery. When Prop 35 passes, we will have the clearest and best human trafficking law in the country. I predict that traffickers will flee as fast as possible from our state.  By voting yes on Proposition 35, you will have done your very best to protect our state’s most precious resource, our children.

 

Let’s send a clear message that California does not tolerate the sexual exploitation of women and children. Please Vote Yes on 35 this November.

 

Visit VoteYesOn35.com.

 

About Sharmin Bock

Sharmin Bock is a 23-year veteran prosecutor in California and a nationally recognized leader on cutting edge criminal prosecutions including DNA cold cases and human exploitation and trafficking.  Sharmin was recognized as Woman of the Year by the California State Legislature and awarded the prestigious Fay Stender Award by the California Women Lawyers. Sharmin was a candidate for San Francisco District Attorney in 2011.

Proposition 35 and Human Sex Traffickers

Murdered Pimp Calvin Sneed

The crosshairs of Proposition 35 are correctly focused on human traffickers, otherwise known as pimps. Until we acknowledge that domestic sex traffic is America’s new dirty little secret, countless American children will continue to be exploited by the cruel manipulations of pimps. To date, these sex traffickers have been given a free pass, if not outright encouragement, to engage in the most exploitive of criminal behavior.

 

In the United States we have it backward. The girls involved in underage prostitution are often portrayed as criminals, drug addled crack whores who are incarcerated rather than assisted once law enforcement brings them in off of the street. On the other hand the pimp culture is glamorized through the music and video industry. We create pimp celebrities and legitimize them in mainstream media. We celebrate their exploits as media covers Players Balls that glorify the pimp lifestyle. Pimps are human traffickers and human traffickers are heinous criminals.

 

Pimping involves a complex relationship between a male pimp and one or more women and/or girls. The pimp wields complete control and induces commercial sex acts in order to make money. The pimp attains total control and obedience through intense manipulation that begins during the grooming process. Manipulations include feigned affection, brutal violence, and verbal, psychological, and/or emotional abuse. This breaking-down phase takes a girl from healthy adolescent sexual boundaries to commercial sex with strangers. This process has been widely-documented and replicated by pimps nationwide. In the trafficking paradigm, this process involves force, fraud, and coercion.  Seasoning often involves:

  • Beating/Slapping/Whipping; with hands, fists, and kicking, as well as with objects such as bats, tools, chains, and cords;
  • Burning; of personal items to foster hopelessness and demoralization or directly burning women and girls using cigarette/cigar butts;
  • Sexual assault; rape or gang rape;
  • Confinement; lock women and girls in closets, trunks of cars, or rooms for indeterminate amounts of time;
  • Other torture techniques; such as food or water deprivation, or various forms of bondage such as chaining individuals to items or tying them up;
  • Emotional abuse; direct verbal insults, name-calling, threats, mind control, brainwashing, cognitive re-programming;
  • Re-naming; offering “nicknames” both for endearment and to erase former identity;
  • Creating dependencies; by instructing how to walk, how to talk, what to wear, when to eat, when to sleep, and where to sleep;
  • Removal from familiarity and support structures; by transporting a woman or minor to a new location where she knows no one;
  • Document confiscation; of identification documents (ID, birth certificate, SS number);
  • Forced sexual education; inducement of viewing pornography to learn to have sex.

Advertising the Players Ball

It is well-documented that pimps establish mandatory monetary quotas that typically range from $500 – $1,000. The women and girls under their control must fulfill their quota in order to end each night of commercial sex. Quotas are strictly enforced, and the punishment for failing to meet a quota is severe physical retaliation from the pimp. In pimp-controlled situations, the women and girls keep zero of this money and turn 100-percent of the profits over to the pimp. Pimp-controlled commercial sexual exploitation of children is linked to escort and massage services, private dancing, drink and photographic clubs, major sporting and recreational events, major cultural events, conventions and tourist destination.

Right now “It’s Not So Hard Out There For A Pimp”, but it will be as soon as we pass Proposition 35.