February 24, 2010
San Diego County Political Buzz ExaminerKimberly Dvorak
Looking for ways to slow human trafficking and the evils that comes with the modern-day slavery, California Against Slavery has started its petition drive to get tougher penalties for those who peddle in human trafficking onto Californiaâ€™s books.
The groups seeks much tougher criminal penalties, aid to district attorneys to better prosecute cases, increase protections for victims and train law enforcement officers all with hope of deterring those who continue to smuggle immigrants in America under the guise of a better life.
Victims of human trafficking are often subjected to forced labor, sexual exploitation and blackmail from their captures. This phenomenon isnâ€™t unique to the United States, but is thriving in many countries around the world.
“We support and desperately need to see revision in our state law with regard to human trafficking,” said Jenny Williamson, founder and president of Courage to Be You, a Sacramento-area organization that rescues and restores victims of child sex trafficking. “Severe fines and extended jail time for the perpetrators of this evil must be enacted if ever this crime is to be deterred. Our courageous law enforcement officers must be equipped and encouraged with mandatory, specific training so that rescuing these vulnerable victims and putting their perpetrators away becomes a priority within our state.”
Taking a crack at the issue is Daphne Phung, executive director and founder of California Against Slavery;
1. How many people are found in California and U.S. who are victims of human trafficking?
Due to the underground nature of human trafficking, the counts of victims in California and the U.S. are not concrete or recent.
For California, a report by “Human Trafficking in California” of the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force, published October 2007. (http://www.homeland.ca.gov/pdf/Human_Trafficking_in_CA-Final_Report-2007.pdf )
The report said California has five Task Forces funded by the Department of Justiceâ€™s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). Between December 1, 2005 and March 12, 2007, Californiaâ€™s five Task Forces reported there were 559 potential victims identified. (These numbers do not include data from the Orange County Task Force, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)
For the United States, the numbers are very imprecise. On February 3, 2010, Luis CdeBaca, director of U.S. Department of State’s Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, held a press conference about human trafficking. Here’s what he said (from http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/rm/2010/136475.htm):
2. What are the percentages of women/children verses men?
Approximately 80 percent of victims of human trafficking are women and girls.
3. Is there one ethnic group that is particularly vulnerable to human trafficking?
According to a study from Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, the largest number of foreign victims came from Thailand, Mexico and Russia.
Experts estimate at least 100,000 American juveniles are victimized through prostitution in America each year. (Shared Hope Report, at http://www.sharedhope.org/files/SHI_National_Report_on_DMST_2009.pdf Common factors for these juveniles are: poverty (basic needs not met), history of abuse, parents use drugs.
American children are victims of sex trafficking within the United States. Domestic child victims tend to be easy targets and carry less risk for the traffickers and buyers than adults and foreign nationals. Many victims are youth in the child welfare system and/or runaways, but some are recruited from middleclass homes as well. A common factor is the history of child physical and sexual abuse in the home or the extended family.
4. What regions of the state/country are more prone to this abuse?
The major metropolitan areas (San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego) are hubs for receiving trafficked victims. Central Valley receives trafficked victims for the agriculture and factory work.
5. What will this cost the taxpayer and how will it be paid for? Do you propose cutting another program to make way for this new law?
Potential increased local government costs of up to a few million dollars on a statewide basis due to the new mandatory training requirements for certain law enforcement officers. Unknown but probably minor net fiscal effects for state and local governments from a potential increase in human trafficking arrests and convictions. This would be a negligible percentage increase in state General Fund spending.
California Against Slavery does not have a position on cutting other California State programs, since the expected increase in General Fund spending would be negligible. For a breakdown visit; California Legislative Analyst’s office estimated the fiscal impact of our initiative cost; http://lao.ca.gov/ballot/2009/090850.aspx
6. Why should the voters care?
First, voters should care because human trafficking threatens the core foundation of our modern society that every person – regardless of race, age, gender, background -possesses an inherent dignity. Human trafficking is a crime against human dignity and a deprivation of the most basic human and civil rights. Allowing this crime to exist and flourish practically unchecked will impact the fabric of our society.
Second, voters should care because human trafficking is linked to other criminal activities that will negatively impact the safety and health of our communities. It gives criminals access to a large amount of money. â€œInstead, human trafficking often involves organized crime groups who make huge sums of money at the expense of trafficking victims and our societies,â€ according to the U.S. State Department.
CNN did a story in August 2009 about Mexican drug cartels moving into selling humans. Drug lords are recognizing the high profit in the human trade. A supply of drugs can only be sold once, but slaves can keep producing day after day, week after week. Source: http://humantrafficking.change.org/blog/view/mexican_drug_cartels_switch_to_selling_humans
The US State Department also identified that human trafficking can result in increased exploitation of children, lowered wages (as cheap goods get even cheaper), reduced workforce productivity, and heightened public health problems (STDâ€™s, psychological traumas).
Third, voters should care because current laws in California fail to deter traffickers from committing these heinous offenses. Under California’s current anti-trafficking laws, a trafficker will walk away with a 3-5 year sentence (and a maximum of 8 years only if the trafficked victim was a minor)! Suffice it to say this does not overweight the profit that traffickers can gain from the crime.
The reality that slavery exists today is a tragedy; and the fact that it is flourishing in our own backyard is absolutely appalling. Its growth is propelled by a lack of deterrence and awareness.
7. Are you going to have a professional signature service collect the 600,000 signatures needed to make the ballot?
No. We are an independent grassroots, volunteer-based organization. We are not financed by any corporation or organization and look to citizens to support our cause. Our current funding comes solely from donations from individuals who believe in our cause. Our strategy is to use volunteers to get signatures in their communities as well as heavily leverage the Internet. We estimated that we would need 600,000 signatures by March 31st to get on the November 2010 ballot.
The importance of deterring those who seek to exploit other humans should be second nature by now, yet it continues to oppress people throughout the world. How we address this issue in the Untied States should be something the rest of the world could turn to as a fair practice barometer. It should also enlighten those in America to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
“Human trafficking is an egregious crime against the most basic human rights and it is an important issue for our state,” said Phung, of California Against Slavery. “We are bringing this issue to the voters to give Californians an opportunity to speak up against human trafficking. We hope that every voter in California will sign the petition and ask ten friends and family members to do the same.”
Please visit http://www.CaliforniaAgainstSlavery.org to print and sign the petition, read the full-text of the initiative, or learn more about California Against Slavery.