Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition Statement in Opposition to SB 14

Photo by Roma Kaiuk🇺🇦 on Unsplash

Special to the Vanguard

The oversimplified narrative on SB 14 as a choice between protecting children or shielding traffickers from accountability is simply false and misleading.

As a coalition of women and trans folks who have experienced violence at the state and interpersonal levels, Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition is deeply invested in justice and the safety of our children and young people. But justice and safety is not an accurate picture of the impact of this proposed law.

In contrast with sensational and oversimplified headlines, the reality is that many victims of human trafficking are charged with human trafficking themselves. As they are being trafficked, victims are forced into situations where they can be viewed as a trafficker. The dynamics of exploitation mean that young people can be coerced into committing crimes for fear of punishment or retaliation. Victims of human trafficking report receiving threats against family members to get them to aid in trafficking others. Oftentimes, basic necessities are withheld from victims to ensure their cooperation, such as medical care and being isolated from family and community.

Prosecutors take advantage of these victims by hanging trafficking charges over them in hopes that they’ll turn on their trafficker, but this strategy often fails due to victims’ fears of harmful retaliation to themselves or others. In fact, over 90% of human trafficking victims are criminalized as a result of their trafficking. This is compounded by the reality that many people who are victims of human trafficking may not even fully realize that they are victims because of interactions with law enforcement where they are treated as criminals.

Rather than identifying someone as having been harmed, the criminal legal system further harms them. Even if survivors don’t get the human trafficking charge, there are other related charges that they may get, including kidnapping.

The penalties for human trafficking are already significant, i.e., from 5 years in state prison and up to 15 years to life in state prison (depending on the age of the victim, the purpose for the trafficking, and manner in which the trafficking was carried out– i.e. force, duress, etc). And there is no evidence that increasing criminal penalties will prevent or reduce human trafficking. Further, many of the underlying offenses listed in P.C. 236.1 also require sex registration pursuant to P.C. section 290. Moreover, there is no evidence that long prison sentences deter or prevent crime [1]. If anything, low-level individuals involved in human trafficking will be prosecuted under SB 14; many of them will be prosecuted for conduct done under duress or other pressures, and they will be easily and swiftly replaced by their trafficker.

SB 14 also legitimizes “Three Strikes” which has proven ineffective at serving public safety and has contributed to the mass incarceration of Black Californians.

We believe that threatening victims with a potential life sentence based on coerced behavior is inhumane and unjust. The intended protections of affirmative defense and vacatur for victims of human trafficking are inadequate based on the realities of the exploitative dynamics of these trafficking situations. Despite the best intentions, this bill will harm victims.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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