Who's a sex trafficker? - Page 2

Under Proposition 35, you'd be surprised

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So if a prostitute shares a joint with fellow worker, she could be guilty of providing a controlled substance, meaning she could be guilty of coercion, meaning she could be guilty of depriving personal liberty. That means triggering the harsh penalties for trafficking. And even if the person isn't likely to be convicted, the possibility of a draconian sentence could force her to accept a plea bargain.

Opponents say the same "parade of horribles" could lead to a person who drops a sex worker off at work, holds money for a fellow sex worker while he or she is at an appointment, or "unwittingly has a 17-year-old prostitute as a roommate suddenly meeting the standards" for human trafficking, Diamond said.

Everyone guilty of "human trafficking" would be subject to long prison sentences and seizure and freezing of assets.

Sex workers are already adversely affected by laws against pimping and pandering. California Penal Code 266(h) includes in the definition of pimping: "Any person who, knowing another person is a prostitute, lives or derives support or maintenance in whole or in part from the earnings or proceeds of the person's prostitution, or from money loaned or advanced to or charged against that person."

That was written in reference to people who use the money a sex worker earns for themselves — that's what pimps do, right? But sharing money is also what partners, family, and friends do.

"The pimping statute in California is so broadly defined that it includes all our domestic partners, our domestic relationships," Maxine Doogan, president of the Erotic Service Providers Union, told the Guardian. "Our children are pimps under that legislation."

Prop. 35 would expand those laws, bringing pimping under the category of human trafficking, with all the expanded penalties that entails.

It's "an unnecessary expansion of pimping and pandering laws," said Rachel West of the US Prostitutes Collective in a statement against the measure. "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."

"It seems to me that anybody who is involved in the milieu is in danger," Diamond said.

Then there's the issue of fines. The Yes on Prop. 35 campaign estimates that the law would bring in around $1.5 million, money that would be directed at "victim services."

The money would be distributed through California's Victim-Witness Assistance Fund. And 30 percent of that money would go to law enforcement agencies for "prevention, witness protection, and rescue operations," according to Section 8 of the CASE Act.

The other 70 percent would be reserved for grants for nonprofits and public agencies that provide services like housing and counseling.

It was this section of the bill that made Anabelle most wary.

"I'm concerned about the services, I would hope they would be voluntary and not mandated by the courts," she said.

As for law enforcement, she said, "with sex work still being illegal, if you give more money to law enforcement to fight trafficking, it gives more money to sex workers being arrested."

 

COLLATERAL DAMAGE

Prop. 35 isn't meant to further criminalize prostitution; it's supposed to deal solely with victims of sex trafficking and the people who force them to engage in commercial sex against their will.

But sex workers rights organizers say that they will be collateral damage in the fight against sex trafficking.

"I've heard of sex workers charged as pimps when they pass phone numbers to a fellow worker, or when they share an apartment with a fellow worker," said Carol Leigh, an activist with Bay Area Sex Worker Advocacy Network.

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