District Attorney in Alameda County, Nancy O’Malley has made sex trafficking a major campaign issue. The recent $15 million Federal grant is meant to combat the problem of human trafficking, specifically trafficking minors. This is a lofty and honorable goal. Human trafficking is a felony and is severely punished, especially since the passage of proposition 35. This opinion is not meant to address proposition 35 nor the appropriate sentences for those convicted of human trafficking. Instead, this opinion’s focus is on the means used to combat human trafficking and the manner in which Alameda County is using Federal funds.
Over the past few months, several police agencies in Alameda have engaged in repeated sting operations meant to arrest those soliciting prostitutes (CA Penal Code 647(b)). These stings make no distinction between those looking for mature, willing prostitutes and minors under control of pimps etc. Instead, these costly operations have led to massive arrests of men for misdemeanor violation of solicitation (CA Penal Code section 647(b)). This uptick in arrests is used as a political platform and the number of arrests meant to win political support. However, arresting and prosecuting men for misdemeanor violation does very little to combat trafficking of minors. Almost without exception, these arrests are a result of ads placed on prominent sites such as Backpage.com in which men are lured into soliciting what they believe is a consenting adult, not a minor. Shaming and prosecuting those engaged in such behavior may win political points but does nothing for the stated goal. Using the number of arrests as a slogan without distinguishing the nature of arrest is a shameful tactic and a misuse of public funds and trust.
The war against human trafficking, like any war, must focus on those engaged in the behavior we seek to curb. There are many consenting adults engaged in prostitution (PC 647(b)) and arresting and prosecuting these individuals does nothing to help those this witch-hunt is meant to protect.