January 13, 2010 (Newswire.com) - FREMONT, Calif. -- California Against Slavery today announced a state ballot initiative to strengthen human trafficking laws and increase trafficking victims' rights.
The initiative would revise state law to increase the sentences and fines for human trafficking offenses, add the sex trafficking of minors as a distinct type of a trafficking offense, mandate human trafficking training for law enforcement officers, and improve victims' restitution rights. The initiative also boosts funding for organizations that serve trafficking victims, providing that at least 50% of seized trafficker assets and fines assessed against traffickers will go to community-based organizations that provide direct services to victims.
Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery and its victims are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. It happens in the United States and worldwide.
Due to the covert nature of the crime, it is difficult to quantify the scope of human trafficking, but experts suggest the problem is large and growing.
An unknown number of U.S. citizens and legal residents are trafficked within the United States, primarily for sexual servitude, according to the U.S. Department of State . Many victims are minors. An estimated 286,506 minors in the United States are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation, according to a report from the University of Pennsylvania . Labor trafficking also happens in the United States in domestic service, factories, farms, restaurants, and other work sites.
Worldwide, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry and it is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry . An estimated 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year, according to the U.S. Department of State .
California is a prime target for human traffickers because of its international borders, port cities, large economy, and metropolitan regions .
Despite the prevalence of the problem, current California law does not reflect the severity of the crime. A human trafficking offense is currently punishable by a state prison sentence of three to five years for trafficking of an adult or four to eight years for trafficking of a minor .
"Human trafficking is a criminal industry and it flourishes where the law is weak," said Daphne Phung, executive director of California Against Slavery. "The initiative will make this crime less lucrative and provide much needed assistance to victims that are often overlooked in the justice system."
California Against Slavery will begin collecting signatures for the initiative on Jan. 25, 2010. The goal is to collect one million signatures by March 31, 2010, to place the initiative on the November 2010 ballot.
For more information and to read the initiative, please visit http://www.CaliforniaAgainstSlavery.org
About California Against Slavery:
California Against Slavery is a non-profit group organized by Californians appalled by the injustice of modern day slavery in our state and around the world. Our mission is to strengthen California state laws to better reflect the personal and societal impact of human trafficking. Our goal is to pass an initiative on the November 2010 California General Election ballot to strengthen current human trafficking laws and increase victims' rights.
 U.S. Department of State
Trafficking in Persons Report 2009
 University of Pennsylvania, Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner
The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, September 19, 2001
This report was cited on page 2 of the "Domestic Human Trafficking" report from the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center.
Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center, U.S. Department of State
Domestic Human Trafficking: An Internal Issue, December 2008
 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Human Trafficking Fact Sheet
 U.S. Department of State
Trafficking in Persons Report 2004
 California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force
Human Trafficking in California Report, October 2007
 California Penal Code Section 236.1
California Office of Homeland Security
California Human Trafficking Legislation (from 2005 to 2007 only)
Governor Schwarzenegger Signs Legislation to Combat Human Trafficking (9/21/05)