Well into the 21st century, indentured servitude persists in several forms, mainly in agriculture, the garment trades, sex work, and domestic service. The current name for it is human trafficking. As both socialists and feminists, we work to end all coercive relationships, including trafficking.
We therefore oppose Proposition 35, the so-called CASE Act (for “Californians Against Sexual Exploitation”). It would do very little good and significant harm.
Human trafficking can’t be ended by measures like this, no matter how sincerely their proponents wish for that result. It can only be ended at the source, by fighting for jobs, decent wages, and safe working conditions for everyone — and by helping workers everywhere organize and fight for themselves — so that no one needs to accept being trafficked.
Short of this long-term goal, we should also work for specific reforms that would actually help the victims of trafficking. Those who want out of their indentures should be offered shelter, education, health care, jobs, and protection from reprisals. Workers imported into this country illegally should be free from the threat of deportation. The capitalists who profit from indentured labor (which is to say the capitalist class as a whole) should pay for these services.
Instead, Prop. 35 rests on two premises. First, trafficking in sex workers is fundamentally different from trafficking in other industries. Second, the right way to reduce crime is to drastically increase mandatory penalties. Both ideas are mostly wrong.
This measure would increase mandatory prison terms for all human trafficking offenses. Mandatory minimum sentences are a bad idea in general. Judges need the ability to fit sentences to the crime and the circumstances.
It would increase sentences even more for sex trafficking than it does for trafficking workers in other industries. This distinction doesn’t exist in current law. Adding it won’t help end sexual exploitation.
It would expand the definition of sex trafficking of minors to include “inducement” and “persuasion” as well as outright coercion. This subjects ordinary pimps, who are small time street criminals, to the same draconian treatment as brothel owners who employ indentured workers. They are not the same.
It would require sex traffickers to register as sex offenders. Sex offender registration laws may get votes at election time, but they have been proven not to stop crime and can prevent people who sincerely want to rebuild their lives from doing so.
It would require everyone convicted of a sex offence (not just traffickers) to report every internet user name and internet service provider they use. This provision is an unconstitutional attack on internet privacy.
Prop. 35 does offer some protection to trafficked sex workers in the form of immunity from prosecution for offenses they commit under duress or coercion. It also aids in the prosecution of traffickers by preventing evidence of prostitution from being used to attack the credibility of witnesses. It provides for a token amount (a whole two hours) of training for police officers. And it would increase the money from fines available to an already existing victim and witness protection fund, but only when traffickers can be convicted (notoriously hard to do) and when fines can actually be collected from the criminals.
But these acceptable provisions are overwhelmed by the almost exclusive focus on sex trafficking as something fundamentally different from trafficking in general, by the damage to civil liberties, and by making mandatory minimums even worse than they are now.
Approving Prop 35 would give the public a false sense of accomplishment that it is doing something about modern day indentured servitude. In fact this practice would continue essentially unabated. The California Peace and Freedom Party urges you to vote no on Prop. 35.