Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Prop 35: Who shall we victimize?

Street walker on Foothill Blvd. in East Oakland // by Paula Steele
Ellen Cushing has a fabulous article in this weeks East Bay Express, beautifully examining California's growing sex-positive sex worker community and the unintended consequences of poorly written policy. While on the surface the proposition seems like a clear cut approach to reducing the high levels of underage sex trafficking that occurs in California, the language of the law can be interpreted so broadly that some worry even the children of sex workers would be guilty of profiting from the illegal activity.
...Prop 35 also dramatically expands the definition of trafficking to encompass anyone who "deprives or violates the personal liberty of another" in a number of ways: "force, fear, fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to the victim or to another person." Each of those words has its own specific legal definition, and they're broader than you might think: As Yael Chanoff recently pointed out in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, "So if a prostitute shares a joint with fellow worker, she could be guilty of providing a controlled substance, meaning she could be guilty of coercion, meaning she could be guilty of depriving personal liberty. That means triggering the harsh penalties for trafficking."
The question before us California voters is whether enacting this broadly worded policy is worthwhile, given the severity of the problem and its unintended consequences. As mentioned earlier, Oakland has such a high rate of underage prostitution it has attracted national attention, including Al Jazeera's program on Slavery in the 21st Century.

Weighing out the pros and cons of this Proposition to determine how I'll vote, it's difficult to reach a firm conclusion. While in favor of people doing whatever consensual sexual activity they want, for profit or not, if some innocents get caught up in stemming the flow of routine victimization and sexual violence that happens in my city then isn't that still worth it? The Helen Lovejoy part of my mind is screaming for me to please think of the children, while other voices protest the trade-off between victimizing one set of innocent people - sexually trafficked abuse victims - and their healthy, consensual adult counterparts.

In the end the outcome of the proposition is essentially determined, with over 75% of California polling in favor of the new policy. This late in the voter cycle it seems unlikely that number will shift enough to make discussions such as these anything more than academic.

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