Editor’s Note: During a meeting of the San Diego Free Press Editorial Board over the weekend, some of us expressed reservations regarding our stand, as a group, on a YES endorsement of Proposition 35. We agreed that we would do more research and report back. Below are the opinions of two of our members, whose views mirror my own and are expressed much more eloquently. ~ Editor du Jour, Patty Jones
SDFP Editorial Board Member Anna Daniels
Wading through the propositions on the ballot this year required both time and effort. I have felt largely confident about the positions I had taken on issues and candidates, except for Prop 35, the anti-sex trafficking initiative. Along with the other SDFP editors, I had cast my vote in favor of the initiative, although it was apparent that there could potentially be fall-out for individual lives and broader civil liberties that I definitely would not support.
I weighed a particular reality against that potential. My community of City Heights is one of the neighborhoods in the city of San Diego where recruiting girls (average entry age is 12-14) into prostitution occurs.
Girls who have been picked up for curfew violation by the police in City Heights are offered participation in a diversion program as an alternative to facing a judge. These girls attend a class that cautions them about falling prey to sex trafficking. I have a hard time wrapping my head around 12-14 year olds being recruited for prostitution and that a class of this nature is necessary. I feel rage and revulsion against the practice of sex trafficking and a fierce protectiveness towards these girls that requires legislative and societal support.
Is that a knee-jerk response to Prop 35? I would rather call it stomach churning and add that I have been unable to resolve my very strong feelings on the subject with a piece of legislation that also is stomach churning.
Kit-Bacon Gressitt wrote a piece on Prop 35 which laid out the support for the initiative and the concerns raised by the opposition. It is worth reading. Her closing statement that “… Prop 35 is going to pass, and we can only wait to see if it produces good things for the people of California or ends up in the rogue’s gallery of ill-conceived and malevolent ballot measures” has lingered with me.
Once again I am weighing the opposition arguments against the particular- my City Heights community. This initiative includes mandatory sentences, which keeps the prison-industrial complex alive and well, to the detriment of poor, multi-racial communities like City Heights.
I am concerned about the impacts upon the families of pimps who have been charged with crimes. It was eye opening for me to talk to a 75 year old woman on the bus who told me that she lost her Section 8 housing when her grandson, who was staying with her, was busted for drugs. She didn’t have enough money to rent at market rates and she sat in a state of shock, shaking her head and saying “I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”
Because I am not sure that the legislation will indeed address the problem of sex trafficking and because I am likewise concerned that it will result in a different kind of misery, I will be voting no against Prop 35.
I do not put this in the context of a “progressive’s dilemma” but rather in the context of a societal and policy fail. When I vote against Prop 35, I do it with the full knowledge that it will not do a damn thing about sex trafficking in City Heights or anywhere else.
SDFP Editorial Board Member Annie Lane
I’ve sat with my pen poised over Proposition 35 a number of times and will admit that I’m pretty conflicted. Prop 35, or Californians Against Sexual Exploitation, seems like it should be pretty cut and dry, but the more I read about it the more I think that’s not the case.
Prop 35 is based on the idea that not enough is being done to punish human trafficking, though that can be argued. California already imposes strict punishment under federal law with life imprisonment for the most severe of cases. In addition, state laws punish sex trafficking with imprisonment of five to eight years depending on the age of the victim, forfeitures of property and required registration as a sex offender.
True, a yes vote on Prop 35 would increase the terms of these punishments — which would be nice especially when considering the worst case scenario — but not without also expanding the definition of sexual crimes to include the most mundane of offenses. The simplest of these examples is the 18-year-old who is dating a 17-year-old but is under the impression that she is of age. If he were to get a naked picture of her and show his buddies, it would be considered a commercial sex act with a minor and have devastating effects on his future.
As the L.A. Times put it, “[Prop 35] expands the sex offender registry and, in so doing, converts it from a useful tool to help police and residents track the whereabouts of potentially dangerous sexual predators into a list that includes non-sex criminals, including traffickers who extort money.”
While I think that Prop 35 is well-intended, I’m also struck by the reality that sexual crimes do not fall into a cookie cutter category. In other words, what could work to put away one legitimate human trafficker and pervert could end up imprisoning some fool who made a few bad decisions.
In addition, proponents of Prop 35 believe that longer prison sentences have a greater effect on criminals, making them less likely to commit additional crimes. That theory has not been proven. The more I think about it, the more it seems a longer prison sentence would have the potential to harden someone, providing dangerous connections and creating a vicious cycle in which one might feel there is no way out.
Prop 35 would also clog up the prisons with people who have committed what once were lesser infractions — directly contradicting any progress we would make if Prop 36 were to pass, which revises the Three Strikes law to impose a life sentence only if the third felony is serious or violent.
Currently, the average cost per inmate per year is $47,000 and, with Prop 35 expanding the definition of a sexual crime to include non-sexual offenses, it is expected to have a sizable fiscal impact. While the ballot seemingly minimizes that impact by saying it’ll “cost a few million dollars annually to state and local governments for addressing human trafficking offenses,” further reading indicates that it will do so much more. In addition to special training of local law enforcement in order for California’s finest to identify sex trafficking victims, there will also be money poured into regulating the new (and questionably unconstitutional) Internet restraints that are written into the proposition.
I could go on, but will choose to end now by saying this: I am a Californian and I am against sexual exploitation. I would jump at the chance to see a decrease in human trafficking crimes, and to know that those out there who are legitimate predators are being put away for good. But I don’t want to see that happen at the expense of those who are basically innocent. I will be voting no on Proposition 35, and encourage all of you to do your own research before filling in that bubble.