California Democrats Block Bill To Lock Up Repeat Child Sex Traffickers: Prison Is Not the Answer

California Democrats killed on Tuesday a bipartisan measure to increase punishments for those who traffic in minors repeatedly, continuing their years-long campaign to empty prisons.

Senate Bill 14 would make trafficking in children and teens younger than 18 a serious crime, on par with murders, arsons, and rapes. This would result in longer prison sentences and even life without the chance of a plea deal. Six Democrats in the Assembly Public Safety Committee abstained on voting, which prevented the bill from being voted on by the entire chamber. Both Republicans voted yes.

Isaac Bryan, a member of the Democratic Committee at the hearing, said: “Longer sentences only increase our investment in systems that harm and subjugate the communities instead of investing the money the community needed to avoid this problem from the start.”

The Democrats’ vote against the bill came as local leaders in California and activists fighting trafficking warned of a surge in sex-trafficking since January, when the state decriminalized loitering in order to commit prostitution under the pretext of transgender equality. This session, the Public Safety Committee killed several proposals meant to combat rising crime. One of these was a bill that would have increased penalties for sex-trafficking. The panel’s progressive members have been working to reduce prison population and ease criminal punishments for many years.


During the hearing on Tuesday, survivors of human slavery gave emotional testimonies. One woman, who spoke anonymously, testified that she was imprisoned for being trafficked. She opposed the bill out of fear it criminalized other victims. Odessa Perkins, the other woman, criticised the panel for its reluctance in keeping offenders behind bars as it enabled a “horrific circle of abuse and depravity.”

Perkins, a black man, said, “I have heard the opposition speak on mass incarceration, harm to communities and jail overcrowding.” “But I am here to tell you that I have been molested and sexually abused by both black and white males and some women. It doesn’t matter what race you are. It is important to save our children. “Traffickers get out of prison, are paroled, and then reoffend, perpetuating the horrible cycle of abuse and depravity.”

Sharmin Bock testified, as a former prosecutor in Alameda County. He said that drug traffickers, who are a hotbed for crime across the country, receive only a few months of jail time. They “are becoming so brazen, because the law is toothless.”

Bock stated, “Let us now acknowledge that organized crime, gangs, are involved in this, because, as you heard our witness say, they can repeat it again and again.” Recognize that this is also a big money maker. These girls are ATMs.”

Reggie Jones Sawyer, chair of the Public Safety Committee (D.), said he was going to vote against the measure but decided to abstain to allow the authors time to revise it. He did not say what changes would make him more accepting of the measure.

Assemblywoman Liz Ortega, D., effectively told minors who were sex trafficked that the criminal justice systems could not assist them.

She said to the witnesses, “I am struggling with how we can support you in terms of mental health, housing, education, and good jobs because it is part of a comprehensive approach.” “Sending someone into prison for their entire lives will not fix the damage moving forward. That’s where I struggle. It’s an extremely complex issue.”

Shannon Grove, a Republican state senator who co-authored this bill with two Democrats expressed her shock over the defeat on Tuesday. She said that she had modified the bill so that it only targeted repeat traffickers and that all of her Democratic colleagues had voted in favor.

She said, “We changed the bill… thinking it would be easy to get this committee out once we reached the Assembly.” “I’m sorry to hear I was wrong.”