Earlier this year, I participated in a moving hearing on human trafficking held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which I am a senior member.
We welcomed experts and advocates, including actress and activist Jada Pinkett Smith. Each speaker shared powerful, heartbreaking stories about the buying and selling of women and girls for sex and other exploitative purposes by human traffickers in communities across America, including in our home state of California. You can see highlights of the video testimony here.
In California, we can take a strong step to end this horrific crime by passing Proposition 35 this November.
Law enforcement, human trafficking survivors, advocates, and prosecutors have all come together to put Proposition 35 on the ballot. Together, we are fighting for the women and girls who are born, raised, and trafficked in our neighborhoods and communities. This is nothing short of modern-day slavery.
While it is difficult to imagine that these heinous crimes are taking place in our own communities, I assure you the problem is all too real. Too often, vulnerable women and girls -- some as young as 12-years-old -- are held against their will and forced to sell their bodies for the financial gain of human traffickers. They live in fear that if they try to escape, their captors will either hurt them or their loved ones.
They are girls like Leah Albright-Byrd who, at age 14, ran away from a home filled with drugs and abuse. She thought she was on the path to a better life, but instead she ran into the clutches of a human trafficker. Leah was sold online and on the streets for four years, including in San Francisco's Mission District. She finally escaped and is now an anti-human trafficking advocate for other girls.
The FBI recognizes three of California's cities -- San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego -- as high intensity sex trafficking areas. Yet, we currently lack the tools to effectively address the problem. In fact, a recent national study by a victims' rights group gave California an "F" grade for its weak laws dealing with child sex trafficking. This is unacceptable.
California should be a leader -- like our State is on countless other issues -- and Prop 35 will help make that possible. It will send a message to traffickers that California is determined to put an end to this horrific crime and help protect victims.
Prop 35 will increase prison terms for human traffickers and require sex traffickers to register as sex offenders and disclose their Internet accounts. In addition, it will require criminal fines from convicted human traffickers to pay for services to help victims.
Prop 35 will also help ensure that victims are better able to seek the justice they deserve. The measure will provide trafficked victims the same level of protection that rape victims currently receive under the Rape Shield Law. In addition, victims will not be prosecuted if they are forced to engage in a commercial sex act by their traffickers -- giving them the ability to face their exploiters in a court of law without fear of prosecution.
Prop 35 will also enhance training for law enforcement officials so that they are better able to conduct the sensitive work of dealing with victims of human trafficking and prosecuting these crimes.
No one should have to suffer from modern-day slavery, especially not in our incredible State of California that 38 million Americans call home. Let's take a stand against human traffickers and say 'enough is enough' to those who criminals who exploit vulnerable women and children.
Please join me in supporting Prop 35 to end human trafficking in California.