The election is coming up next week, and I’m very excited to roll out of bed, get my butt to my polling place and vote for Barack Obama. Even if a lot of the excitement is because I feel like this.
California loves prop voting, so the general election brings a lot of anxiety not just about candidates, but about bills and laws that could suddenly affect all Californians. And a few uninformed, mistaken, or pigheaded votes can take years to straighten out if the State changes its mind (remember Prop 8?). This year there are a lot of propositions up for review, involving everything from labeling genetically-altered foods to insurance discounts, so it will probably be easy for certain issues to fall through the cracks if they aren’t important to some voters.
That’s why I wanted to take a post to talk about Prop 35, which would enact the CASE act, promising to end human trafficking in California…and tell you why you should vote NO on 35.
Human trafficking, especially that of minors, is very real and very scary. People need to be aware of traffickers and how they function, and the monsters who commit these crimes must be stopped. Californians Against Slavery and the Safer California Foundation, the two groups backing Prop 35, know this. They share horrific, true stories of youth who have been abducted, abused and sold into slavery. They know no self-respecting Californian would support human trafficking, and that’s why Prop 35, which is marketed as an exclusively anti-trafficking act, is expected to pass by a landslide next week.
If Prop 35 bore down solely on sex trafficking–organized, calculated, non-consensual abduction and slavery–this would be excellent for California. Unfortunately, the proposition is misleading, inflexible and sloppy, and voting “Yes” could have a huge chunk of the population living in fear.
Greg Diamond at Orange Juice, an Orange County political blog, outlines 35’s myriad flaws here, and I urge you to read his breakdown. Here are some points to consider:
- Surprise! State and federal laws that defend against rape, kidnapping, trafficking, statutory rape, forced labor, prostitution and more are already on the books. The CASE act attempts to distinguish itself from preexisting laws, which results in some very sticky semantics. You can read more about those in the Orange Juice blog.
- These semantics could land innocent kids in life-ruining trouble while the stealthy, professional criminals the act claims to fight go free. CASE promises harsh punishments (read: terms lasting up to life) for those engaged in “commercial sex” with a minor, even in consensual cases, and defines “commercial sex” as “sex that occurs on account of anything of value being given or received by any person.”
This remarkably broad definition would be comical if it wasn’t real. Anything of value? It could be popcorn at the movies. Or even something intangible, like the puppy love between a 16-year-old and her 18-year-old boyfriend...until they break up, and he gets taken to court by her parents, where he risks a lifetime of sex-offender registration and prison until he’s 30. (Feel free to reverse the gender roles in this scenario.) It’s an extreme hypothetical, yes, but that chain of events, and certainly that sentence, would be completely feasible under CASE. Voting yes on 35 would put teenagers at greater risk of ruining their futures. And this isn’t even getting into “sexting” issues.
- CASE would expand the sex-offender registry. Even when it does its job of registering nasty offenders, the registry system in the U.S. is flawed: it keeps people from getting second chances, books people unfairly, and instills a witch-hunty “stranger danger” fear when most sexual abusers are family members or friends. Since CASE has such inflexible guidelines, more people would be added to the California registry, even non-sexual offenders, causing confusion and diffusing sex-offender stigma from the few monsters who truly deserve to have that mark upon them.
- Consensual, adult sex workers would also face more severe charges and sentences under CASE. A 35-year-old woman consensually involved in sex work would suffer the same consequences as the adult forcing a 14-year-old into non-consensual sex work–regardless of one’s opinions on whether consensual prostitution should be legalized, we can all agree that one is evil, and the other is, at the very least, less so. Again, CASE unnecessarily levels the playing field when what needs to happen is severe punishments reserved for true bad guys.
- CASE’s broadened pimping definition could have negative consequences for dependents of sex workers, even if those dependents (elderly parents, spouses) are unknowing.
While the bill’s deceptive wording will most likely still ensnare most voters and all politicians (it’s endorsed by both the Democratic and Republican parties in California), intellectual outlets are giving a hearty cry of “NO on 35.” The L.A. Times is one, and others include LGBT rights groups, sex-worker advocacy networks, and more.
I care about every proposition on November’s ballot, but as a longtime supporter of sex-positivity and safe, informed consent, Prop 35 is personal. Sex trafficking is evil and must be stopped. Someday, it will be stopped, but it won’t be stopped by Prop 35. It won’t be stopped by panicked, hastily-passed laws. It will be stopped only when voters can face their fears and have an honest dialogue about sex, children, consent and risk. Then, we can use knowledge, logic and experience to write smart laws that target the true bad guys—and only the bad guys.
I urge anyone who may be reading this to be informed and vote with knowledge on election day!
EDIT 11/8: Prop 35 passed by a landslide, as expected. The ACLU of Northern California has filed a First Amendment grievance, however, and courts have issued a temporary restraining order on the measure while it gets reviewed.