The Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act (CASE Act) is on the November 2012 ballot (Proposition 35). The Act claims to address child trafficking by increasing fines and sentences, channelling money to victims’ services, promoting law enforcement training and clamping down on the organization of trafficking via the internet.  The reality is very different.

Existing anti-trafficking measures are primarily being used to increase police powers to criminalize sex workers and target immigrant sex workers, in particular women of color, for arrest and deportation.

Existing laws against rape, kidnapping, sexual assault, false imprisonment, extortion . . . could be used to prosecute the real exploiters of women and children. But traffickers and violent men escape prosecution because protecting women and children is not the priority — 94% of rapists don’t see a day in jail and only 50% of reported rapes end in arrest[1].

Any increase in prostitution among young people has primarily been as a result of the economic crisis and cuts in welfare. The Act says nothing about this or about the continuing criminalization of under 18 year olds for prostitution offences and the fact that criminal records prevent sex workers leaving prostitution.

We urge you to vote no because Proposition 35:

Will not help victims of trafficking including those under 18.

Existing anti-trafficking laws have been used to justify an increase in the arrest of street workers, bans on web advertising, the closure of premises where women are working more safely and independently and the criminalization of clients.

Such measures push sex workers, the majority of whom are mothers and young people, further underground and into greater danger. A prestigious Stanford University report found that enforcement of trafficking law “detrimentally impacts the rights of trafficked persons”.[2]  Just as the “War on Drugs”  criminalized low-income communities of color these same communities are also getting the brunt of anti-trafficking enforcement.

There is no indication that this Act will help provide the concrete resources like welfare and housing that young people need to get out of prostitution or escape from exploitative or violence situations. Few victims of trafficking are given the right to stay in the US in safety — T visas (special visas for victims of trafficking) are rarely granted.

Will cut victims off from potential support by criminalizing anyone that associates with a young person in prostitution regardless of whether there was any force or coercion involved.

One young woman of color in our network was charged with pimping and pandering for helping another young woman get off the street.  Only US PROS’ campaign prevented her going on a sex offender register for life.

Uses phony and sensationalist statistics to exploit the public’s understandable concern about trafficking. The figure that 300,000 American children are “at risk” of commercial sexual exploitation was discredited by a Village Voice investigation as being based on the report authors opinion about who was “at risk”. The Washington Post also exposed how the number of victims of trafficking are grossly exaggerated[3].

 Expands the definition of trafficking to include any sex with a minor “because minors are legally incapable of consenting to sexual activity.”  “Unlawful sexual activity with a minor” is already an offence, as is rape (sex without consent by means of force, duress, menace, deception etc.) abduction, kidnapping . . .  A “commercial sexual act” is defined, in relation to children, as “any sexual conduct on account of which anything of value is given or received by any person” (Section 236.2).  Young people having consenting sex, even with others of a similar age, could be labeled as victims of trafficking or traffickers on this basis. How long before this definition of trafficking and “commercial sexual exploitation” creeps into adult prostitution law and policy.

Increases police powers to detain and interrogate people under the pretext of looking for trafficked victims including “a minor who has engaged in a commercial sex act”, a “person suspected of prostitution” or “a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault”. Arrests and raids against sex workers will increase in the name of anti-trafficking.

Deters young people from coming forward to report exploitation, rape, trafficking and other violence. Rape and violence against sex workers is widespread[4] and few people report to the police. Even worse 27% of street workers and 14% of indoor workers had experienced violence at the hands of policeand 16% of indoor workers had been involved in sexual situations with the police.[5]  How can sex workers report to their own assailants?

Takes no account of the economic crisis and cuts in welfare, housing and other resources which is forcing increasing numbers of young people, particularly young mothers, into the sex industry to survive.  Twenty-nine percent of single female headed households live in poverty. Of the 19% of all children who live in poverty, 34% are Black, 31% are Latino.

One young mother in our network was forced to work as a prostitute having been refused housing (despite the sustained efforts of Legal Action for Women) because her income of $307 a month was considered too low.  She tried other jobs, but couldn’t make ends meet and cover childcare costs on the low wages.

 Encourages corruption. 30% of the funds collected from draconian new fines “shall be granted to law enforcement and prosecution agencies” (SEC.8. Section 236.4 (d)). This risks distorting law and order priorities encouraging arrests and prosecutions.  The Act also provides money for more police training (SEC.14. Section 13519.14). But what will the police be trained in—on the basis of this Act, an inaccurate and distorted view of child trafficking?

Gives non-profits a vested interest:70% of funds collected from fines will go to “public agencies and non-profits” (SEC.8. Section 236.4 (d)). Projects such as San Francisco SAGE rely for their budgets on sex workers being labelled as victims and therefore have a vested interested in exaggerating the extent of “sex trafficking”. Funding from fines means they will also have a vested interest in the criminalization of prostitution. Many victims won’t go to SAGE because they work closely with Homeland Security, immigration authorities and the police.

Is an unnecessary expansion of pimping and pandering laws:  SEC.6. Section 236.1 amends the Penal Code to label anyone arrested under these laws as guilty of human trafficking increasing imprisonment in state prison to five, eight or twelve years and a fine of $500,000, and under certain circumstances, up to $1 million. Sex workers are already being wrongly prosecuted for working together as is anyone who associates with sex workers – boyfriends, husbands, even drivers and anyone hired by a woman for protection against attack.

Removes legal defenses: SEC.4. 1161 (a) prevents evidence of the victim having been a sex worker being brought up in legal cases. For a sex worker or other person unjustly accused of being a “trafficker”, this evidence is crucial to be able to disprove force or coercion.

Makes unwarranted changes to the Sex offender law: SEC.9. Section 290 is amended to require people convicted of trafficking (including under this expanded definition) to register as sex offenders for life and lays out harsh registration requirements. The law is already being misused against sex workers, gay men and others (like the “Crimes against Nature law in New Orleans law) but this gives the police even more powers of surveillance and interference in people’s lives.

Attacks the internet: Prop 35 continues the assault on the internet which began with the moralistic crusade against Craigslist and now Backpage, blaming the internet for promoting trafficking.  SEC. 12. Section 290.015 amends the Penal Code to allow law enforcement to have access to all internet identifiers and all internet service providers of anyone the police suspect of being a trafficker. It is a dangerous precedent to allow such an invasion of privacy and law enforcement intrusion into the internet.

[1] “Robbed, Raped and Jailed: Are Police Departments Underestimating Rape Cases?“  Senate Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Uninvestigated Rape Cases. ABC World News, September 14, 2010.

[2] Chang, Grace and Kim, Kathleen, Reconceptualizing Approaches to Human Trafficking: New Directions and Perspectives from the Field(s). ibid

[3] “Human Trafficking Evokes Outrage, Little Evidence” by Jerry Markon, Washington Post, September 23, 2007

[4] 80% of street workers and 46% of indoor workers experienced violence or threats in the course of their work.  “Revolving Door”, Urban Justice Network

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