Proposition 35 (“Californians Against Sexual Exploitation” or “SAFE”) has an appealing title and a goal with which no one can take issue, combating the problem of human trafficking.
There is just one thing. The evils that the Proposition seeks to address – forced labor and forcing people to enter the sex trade – are already illegal. Proposition 35 will spawn unnecessary litigation as judges and lawyers have to square it with existing law.
More importantly, shouldn’t our democratically elected leaders and the law enforcement community take on the problem? That is exactly what they are doing. The California legislature has turned its attention to the subject, and passed several bills, which Governor Brown signed into law, in the last year alone. As virtuous as it might make us feel to say “no” to human trafficking, there is no reason to think that the public officials whom we have elected to deal with intractable public safety issues like this are not doing their jobs.
Proposition 35 would significantly increase the punishment for human trafficking. In so doing this single-issue, feel good proposition is oblivious to larger trends in criminal law. Namely, due to prison overcrowding, budget constraints, and skepticism about the overall effectiveness of long prison sentences, California has been trying to reduce its prison population. If indeed persons guilty of human trafficking deserve lengthier prison sentences, that is a call for our elected representatives to make, having in mind other legislative priorities.