Last week, on the first day of the new session, a bipartisan group of California state legislators introduced a bill (SB 14) to redefine human trafficking, including sex trafficking of minors, as a serious and violent felony. This would increase jail time for offenders and make the offense subject to the three-strike statute. Currently, California law categorizes human trafficking as a non-serious and non-violent crime, in the same category as other low-level felony crimes such as theft, vandalism, and drug dealing.
Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer believes that is unjust. “You can touch a child once and that be a violent offense, but touch a child 15 times at night and be the engineer of that and have that not be a violent felony. That’s outrageous,” Zimmer said.
Last year, Senators Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) and Anna Caballero (D-Fresno) teamed up with 21 cosponsors, 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, to introduce the same bill, just with a different number (SB 1042). Shamefully the bill never made it out of the Senate Public Safety Committee, because Senators Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood), Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland), and Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) refused to vote for it.
“Human trafficking is a horrendous crime that has run rampant in our state,” said Senator Grove. “California has been the epicenter of the human trafficking problem for far too long. We must take action immediately to stop this modern-day slave trade and protect the most vulnerable people in our communities.”
According to Grove’s office, an estimated 40 million people have been forced into modern-day slavery, known as human trafficking, in the last decade. The crime has become one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative in the world, generating an estimated $150 billion each year. Furthermore, victims of human trafficking often suffer from long-term physical and psychological trauma.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recognized the severe trauma human trafficking victims suffer and stated the following: “violence and psychological manipulation are common, and victims are at increased risk of injury, sexual assault, infectious diseases, substance misuse, untreated chronic medical conditions, malnutrition, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression and other mental health disorders, homicide, and suicide.”
SB 14 will be presented to the Public Safety Committee once more at the start of 2023. It is yet to be determined who the new members of the Committee will be, as the composition will be changed.