Among the many issues being debated in this upcoming election, the subject of human trafficking is being spotlighted via the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act. Named Proposition 35 on this year’s ballot, the initiative aims to increase prison sentences and fines for persons convicted of trafficking, pushing the extra funds toward victims services. It also develops stronger protocol for law enforcement officers who may come across sex trafficking cases in the future. In its campaign for support, CASE presents facts to show us that this problem is not just a third-world crime. The FBI tracks 13 places in the U.S. known as high sex-trafficking areas. Three of them are in California.
The main reason why there is even a Prop. 35 debate at all is the ambiguity surrounding the idea of sex trafficking and exactly what kinds of crime it entails. There are many well-established laws in place to define certain criminals as such, and they become hard-wired into our brains — killers, thieves and terrorists are all part of the felony bubble that our country strives to eradicate. And the rigid lines that separate us from the perceived delinquent population are rarely blurred in the language of government legislation. However, in the little-publicized context of human trafficking, child pornography, and prostitution, our distinctions between the criminal and the victim are not so clear. Widespread ignorance of this topic is due in part by the mass media and in part by the narrow ideologies of many political entities that govern us. These social institutions build up barriers of apathy that have lead to our collective desertion of the men, women and children who have been forced into California’s underground sex slave industry.
Prop. 35 is an ambitious program, aimed at locking down traffickers while providing resources and services to their victims. But it also creates a dialogue centered on the sex industry and brings it to the forefront of the political sphere. It is important for students to recall that the Bay Area is home to some of the greatest innovators and revolutionaries in the world. We are a body of sharp minds and diverse interests embedded in the fabric of our university’s history of overcoming struggle and apartheid of all forms. In the wake of this election, it is time for college students to demonstrate more initiative in promoting awareness of human trafficking, or more specifically, sex trafficking and abuse. These conversations with young people often begin with how little underage prostitution is understood in this country. We must shift our narrow perceptions of the sex industry from a voluntary service between consenting adults to a source of brutal abuse and child exploitation.
The influences on young minds are direct and far-reaching. A specific example is the “pimp and ho” culture trend that is normalized by popular music and made humorous by entertainment figures. The image of scantily-clad women on street corners, at the mercy of a domineering character in a fur coat, is now a joke far too distant from our personal reality to be examined critically. The truth is that the sex industry in America is very real, and it feeds off of the degradation and manipulation of women and children. There are many circumstances that lead one to the cyclical and inescapable path of forced labor on domestic ground, such as poverty or early exposure to abuse. Regardless, any time someone takes advantage of another human being for profit, it is human trafficking. The young women, usually minors, who we dismiss as hookers and whores, are subjected to physical and psychological torture because they have not been privileged with our opportunities and good fortune. And we, the bright and gifted individuals of higher education, allow celebrities to teach us how to glorify such human mistreatment.
As a society, we are constantly snowed under by massive volumes of misinformation regarding the underground sex industries in our own state. Those opposed to the CASE Act would venture to say that prostitution is a victimless crime, a phenomena so insignificant that it deems unworthy of taxpayer dollars, something I have heard many times at anti-trafficking events. The members of Cal Not for Sale and I firmly believe in education as a crucial step to making wise voting decisions, and we implore this campus to investigate the issue further, beyond the extent of glossed-over mainstream media sources. I sincerely hope that you are all able to develop fact-supported opinions on Prop. 35 in time to place a carefully thought out vote this November.
The resources and connections I attained through Cal Not for Sale have uncovered many hidden facets of this complex global issue for me, and I attest with confidence that Prop. 35 is a small but momentous step toward justice for abuse victims nationwide. The full text of the legislation is currently available on www.caseact.org.
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