Human trafficking is a despicable crime. But Proposition 35 on the Nov. 6 ballot is not the right approach to the problem.
Daphne Phung, founder and executive director of Californians Against Slavery and the major sponsor of Prop. 35, deserves praise for shining a light on human trafficking. Phung believes this form of modern slavery, including forced labor and the sexual exploitation of women and children, is rife in California. But reliable statistics are impossible to find.
Law enforcement agencies do not collect data about trafficking in a uniform or consistent manner. There is little agreement on the definition, on exactly what human trafficking is.
In its analysis of Prop. 35, the Legislative Analyst's Office stated that as of Oct. 11, 2011, only 16 people were being held in state prison for human trafficking. While that might indicate that current law and enforcement is not strong enough, it could also be an indication that the crime may not be at a crisis level -- at least not yet.
The proposition would also increase state prison sentences and fines for human trafficking, roughly raising state penalties to federal levels. If that were all it did, it might merit support. But it goes beyond that. To protect victims, the proposition alters the evidence code, making inadmissible evidence of commercial sexual activity of a victim of human trafficking "to prove the victim's criminal liability ..."