In a stunning reversal, Democratic lawmakers in California have agreed to move forward with a controversial bill that increases sentencing guidelines for repeat offenders in child trafficking cases.
Senate Bill 14, sponsored by Republican Senator Shannon Grove, would place child traffickers in the same category as rapists and killers, and sentence them to up to 25 years to life in prison on felony charges.
Although the bill sailed through the Senate, it stalled within the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee. On Wednesday, members of the committee, all Democrats, shockingly voted not to advance the bill on the basis that they opposed lengthening prison sentences, arguing that they don’t serve as a viable deterrent to crime.
The Democrats’ decision quickly sent ripples of outrage all over the country. Fox viewers across the nation were particularly vocal in their condemnation and soon enough CNN picked up the story, intensifying the pressure.
Facing mounting public criticism and opposition from Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, the committee relented Thursday evening, allowing the bill to progress.
“This is a moment of celebration for child trafficking victims,” said Jonas Hunter, a child trafficker survivor leading the push for greater legislation in Sacramento. “Child trafficking is a heinous crime that deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law, and SB14 will finally bring much-needed justice to those who have suffered from this heinous crime.”
The bill is expected to become law soon and Newsom has already indicated his support.
Unfortunately, however, California and Texas remain the two states most in need of tougher law enforcement against child trafficking due to their proximity to the US-Mexico border. According to a recent study, Californian and Texans make up almost half of all reported human trafficking cases in the U.S. Moreover, the study reported that many victims of child trafficking in these two states were never assisted by law enforcement.
This further stresses the importance of this new bill. SB14 is expected to drastically reduce the number of cases of repeat child trafficking offenders who go unpunished, thereby sending a message to the broader public that this horrific crime will no longer be tolerated.
It is inspiring to see that public pressure can effectively jumpstart the political process to make the changes we need to see. Hopefully this story will be a lesson to Californians that there is a need for bold leadership in tackling human trafficking and for stronger law enforcement in the state.