State strengthens sex trafficking penalties
New law authored by Valley Senator Shannon Grove gets signed off by Governor, classifies offenses against children as serious felonies
SACRAMENTO – On Sept. 25, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 14, which classifies sex trafficking of a minor as a serious felony, falling under the state’s “Three Strikes” law and resulting in harsher penalties and sentencing enhancements for those convicted.
In a press release, Newsom said, “Human trafficking is a sick crime. With this new law, California is going further to protect kids. I am grateful for the leadership of Senator Grove, Speaker (Robert) Rivas, and (Senate President) Pro Tem (Toni G.) Atkins in spearheading this bipartisan effort to make our communities and children safer.”
According to the bill’s text, SB 14 removes plea bargaining from the sentencing process. The bill amends, in part, Section 1192.7 of the Penal Code to read, “It is the intent of the Legislature that district attorneys prosecute violent sex crimes under statutes that provide sentencing under a ‘one strike,’ ‘three strikes’ or habitual sex offender statute instead of engaging in plea bargaining over those offenses.”
SB 14 becomes effective Jan. 1, 2024.
A TUMULTUOUS HISTORY
SB 14 was introduced by Senator Shannon Grove (12th District, Bakersfield) on Feb. 23. Grove’s legislation was not the first time California lawmakers tried to reclassify sex trafficking in the state. Since 2007, lawmakers attempted to amend the statutory language seven times; each attempt was thwarted.
In years past, opposition groups, including Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition, lobbied legislators not to pass legislation because they believed stricter laws would unfairly target minorities, including Black communities.
“There is no evidence that long prison sentences deter or prevent crime,” Sister Warriors said in a statement last July when the bill was being debated.
Assemblymember Mia Bonta (12th District, Oakland) was one legislator who initially opposed increased penalties, but changed her mind after she and her family received death threats.
“(T)he death threats made against my children certainly raised a level of concern in terms of making sure we had some resolution to this bill,” said Bonta.
Assemblymember Heath Flora (9th District, Ripon) was unequivocal in his support of SB 14.
“You can choose a team: pick pedophiles or children,” said Ripon.
After Newsom signed the bill, Grove issued the following statement:
“The signing of Senate Bill 14 is a huge victory for California’s children and the survivors of sex trafficking who have long fought for justice. With the passage of this bill, we are sending a clear message to child traffickers— we intend to put you out of business and behind bars where you belong.
“I am grateful for the incredible support from the human trafficking survivors who have bravely shared their story with the hope of making this change, the 64 legislative co-authors of SB 14, and the Governor for signing this important bill. Most of all, I want to thank the thousands of Californians who called or visited legislative offices, signed petitions, and spoke out on social media. We are here today because of the overwhelming public outrage that propelled this bill through the legislature and ultimately helped protect our children from predators.”