Who's a sex trafficker?

Under Proposition 35, you'd be surprised

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yael@sfbg.com

SEX 2012 Anabelle was 20 when she was kicked out of her parents' house. The way she tells it, she was suffering from mental health issues and desperate for money. So she agreed to work in the sex industry — for a man who said that she would be doing masturbation shows that wouldn't involve physical contact with customers.

But the man put up ads on Craigslist advertising sex with her. He sexually assaulted her. "I was in a situation that really coercive," Anabelle, who asked us not to use her real name, recalled on the phone with me, voice shaking.

"He took me by his place but he also took me to a hotel room that he had rented," she said. "I definitely felt like I was being held. He was around except when I was with a customer."

"I don't know how long he was intending to keep me there."

She didn't have to find out. Anabelle was able to escape. But the trauma and shame would stay with her.

"The next day I started peeing blood and I went to the ER, but I didn't let them do a pelvic exam. It wasn't clear if it came from an infection or some other thing, so I didn't tell them what had happened," she recalled.

Anabelle sees herself as a victim of sex trafficking. Stories like hers are driving Proposition 35, a statewide ballot measure called the Californians Against Slavery and Exploitation (CASE) Act.

But Anabelle isn't supporting the CASE Act. And her arguments — and those of sex workers and their supporters — paint a very different picture of a law that could hurt the people it's supposed to protect.

 

PARADE OF HORRIBLES

The CASE Act would increase prison sentences for sex trafficking. It would mandate that convicted traffickers register, for life, as sex offenders, and would require that registered sex offenders hand over any online usernames and passwords to law enforcement.

It would also increase penalties for trafficking in humans for non-sexual purposes, as well as extortion, although neither of those are mentioned in summaries of the law or pro-Prop. 35 materials.

The act defines a person as "guilty of human trafficking" if that person "deprives or violates the personal liberty of another with the intent to effect or maintain a violation of" several parts of the California Penal Code that already exist.

"Traffickers, driven by greed, are instigating rape and torture on children and women, and treating people like lifeless and soulless things," says the CASE act website. And the stated intent of the act, to increase penalties for people who commit crimes like these, would garner little opposition.

But the CASE Act may go much farther. The ballot initiative was sponsored by billionaire and former Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly, who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general last year. It never got the rigorous review by legislative staff attorneys that other California bills go through. In fact, the Legislature already rejected a version of the CASE Act, citing concerns that it may have unintended consequences.

Greg Diamond, plaintiff's attorney who opposes Prop. 35, calls those consequences a "parade of horribles." Take the clause about deprivation or violation of personal liberty.

The act defines that phrase as "substantial and sustained restriction of another's liberty accomplished through force, fear, fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to the victim or to another person."

All of the words on that list, of course, have their own legal definitions. Coercion, for example, is defined in part as "the provision and facilitation of any controlled substance to a person with the intent to impair said person's judgment."

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