Stacey Swimme

Innovative Thinking On The Sex Industry & Social Justice

California: Vote No On Prop 35! (The CASE Act)

My instinctual objection to Prop 35 is my doubt as to whether the voter initiative process is the most appropriate arena to define human trafficking and to determine what appropriate penalties are for traffickers. I want those who profit from coercion and fraud to be adequately restrained, as any sensible person would. But shouldn’t that be determined by demonstrated evidence of what actually deters human trafficking, not just what gets a popular vote among a public that does not have all the facts?

Retired Lieutenant John Vanek says at his Human Trafficking Blog: “(I’ve never supported the language of the CAS initiative, nor the use of the proposition process to change laws regarding human trafficking)” With 25 years in law enforcement and 6 years of experience investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases, wouldn’t you think the proponents of Prop 35 would want to listen to his guidance on the topic? It seems the Police Officers Association also passed on an opportunity to get input from Vanek. Naturally, they have an interest in increasing prison sentencing- and getting their 30% cut of the fine monies that Prop 35 would potentially generate.

I met Mr. Vanek in 2010 at an Anti-Human Trafficking training in San Francisco. The fact is there are force, fraud, coercion and abuse happening out there; it drives all sorts of different labor, including sex. Mr. Vanek has clearly seen a lot of that- the real abuse- and he wants those cases to be tracked down and effectively prosecuted. He understands what works and what doesn’t. When I met him, I introduced myself to the entire room as a sex worker who consents to sex in my line of work. I spoke with Mr. Vanek briefly afterward. I provided him with the St. James Infirmary Occupational Health and Safety Handbook. He asked me what I thought about the closure of’s Erotic Services section. I told him that we had lost a good tool for law enforcement to track down real predators. He said he agreed.

As it turns out, Mr. Vanek and I agree on many things, in particular, that Prop 35 will not prevent human trafficking or assist the victims of real exploitation. He lays out his case against Prop 35 in 3 excellent blog posts that you should see here, here and here. His message is clear:

“But weak sentencing – while perhaps not a disincentive – does not cause one person to enslave another.  For that we must examine a complex list of push/pull factors, including the effects of globalization, increased migration, conflict (including wars, and in-home conflict leading to increased runaways and homelessness among teenagers), elements of culture, and that most basic of needs – a job.”

“Proposition 35 (aka: the CASE Act) has several flaws, including proposing different sentencing standards for offenders who exploit victims for labor or services, as opposed to commercial sex offenses.  This is an insult to every victim forced to work in domestic service, agricultural fields, sweat shops, restaurants, or other forms of slavery that do not include sex.  The CASE Act even neglects to address the difference between minor victims (i.e., under age 18) and adults in labor cases!”

“…Prop 35 could actually harm the response to trafficking in our state.  Enhancing trafficking laws should be created via the legislative process, not the initiative process.  I urge you to vote NO on Prop 35.”

Thank you Mr. Vanek!

A few of the unintended consequences I can see are that this initiative continues to promote a scary conflation between consensual prostitution and forced sex trafficking. By failing to recognize that professional sex workers are not victims and should not be treated as criminals, we are silencing a huge number of people who could be key allies in the fight against trafficking. With sex work and human trafficking lumped together into a black market, an easy cover is created for those who would force non-consenting victims into sexual commerce. Consensual sex for money should not be a crime. Period. And any victim of non-consensual sex, whether for money or not, should be able to count on a swift and effective community response to both prevent it from happening and to bring justice to those who would seek out the vulnerable to make their profits.

The scariest aspect of Prop 35 for sex workers is the language in Sec. 3 Purpose and Intent: “…to ensure just and effective punishment for those who PROMOTE or engage in the crime of human trafficking.” To understand why this is scary, you have to understand that elsewhere in this initiative “force, fraud and coercion” are removed from the definition of trafficking and the distinction between minors and adults engaged in commercial sex is also removed. So essentially, anybody who works to increase the safety of consenting sex workers by maintaining a Bad Date list for example, or training internet-based adult sex workers how to screen out the bad clients can be accused of “promoting” human trafficking. Prop 35 is a blatant effort to misrepresent the real circumstances of human trafficking and targets those who work consensually in the sex industry. Prop 35 will lead to increased harassment and prosecutions of sex workers, the majority of which gets directed at the most vulnerable workers, including people of color and transgender sex workers. Any effort sex workers make to help keep each other safe by sharing clients, working together or sharing work spaces could be considered “trafficking” according to Prop 35. Who benefits from this? Not the real victims of exploited labor and sexual commerce.

It is clear that human trafficking is a complex and dynamic issue that should not be oversimplified as the CASE Act attempts to do. If people truly care about preventing human trafficking, resources should be directed toward ending child abuse and incest in the home; better services for runaways who are often escaping abuse and homophobia; and investing in education and employment opportunities for women and girls so that the sex industry is not the default option for people struggling financially. This initiative squanders money that could otherwise be used to build real solutions that prevent human trafficking.

Please join Lt. Vanek and me in voting NO on Prop 35!

(Click here for additional info on Prop 35)


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One thought on “California: Vote No On Prop 35! (The CASE Act)

  1. Pingback: International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers | heidi sulzdorf

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