Tuesday, June 2, 2009

California Senate approves new bill to fight human trafficking

SACRAMENTO – The California Senate approved two major bills authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) to assist domestic violence victims and combat human trafficking. SB 782 would prevent landlords from unfairly evicting victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. SB 557 would allow courts to seize any property, such as house or automobile, of a person convicted of human trafficking and used in the commission of the crime.

Stopping Unfair Evictions

SB 782 is modeled after a San Francisco ordinance authored by Supervisor Carmen Chu and sponsored by District Attorney Kamala Harris, which passed in February.

"It is unconscionable to force a domestic violence victim from their home," said Yee. "Evicting a survivor of domestic violence not only results in being re-victimized, but unfairly strains a family attempting to recover. The possibility of eviction discourages women from coming forward to report incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault. If a victim wants to stay in his or her home, they should be allowed that opportunity and should not face added pressures of moving or possible homelessness."

Under current law, if a victim determines he or she must relocate to a safe environment, he or she can petition the court to break his/her lease without penalty. However, the reverse option is not currently available in jurisdictions besides San Francisco. The result is that many landlords force victims to leave their homes under a nuisance clause in their rental agreement.

SB 782 would allow a tenant to petition the court to stay in their homes if issued an eviction notice based primarily on the acts of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. In order to be eligible, tenants must have written documentation by a qualified third party (such as a police officer, therapist or licensed clinical social worker) substantiating the abuse. Tenants would still be subject to all the terms of their lease and landlords would be able to evict the perpetrator.

"This bill extends important tenant rights to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking," said Emily Murase, Executive Director of the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women. "Victims will no longer be subject to eviction based on noise, police activity, or other complaints. These evictions had the adverse effect of discouraging women from coming forward against their batterers and pursuers. We need to encourage, not discourage, women to step forward."

Combating Human Trafficking

In addition to the courts seizing property of those convicted of human trafficking, SB 557 would add civil penalties of up to $25,000.

"SB 557 will bring much-needed resources to help fight human trafficking, while also ensuring victims receive the services they need to recover from this horrific crime," said Yee. "Between 14,500 and 17,500 victims are trafficked into the United States each year and enslaved for purposes of sexual or labor exploitation, and unfortunately many of the cases occur here in California. Our state has led the way in combating human trafficking and exploitation, but we should not stop our efforts until all women, men, and children are free and safe from such an appalling offense."

Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide, according to the US Department of State. Victims are generally trafficked into the US from Asia, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe. Many human trafficking victims do not understand English and are therefore isolated and often unable to communicate with service providers, law enforcement and others who might be able to help them.

Research by the Human Rights Center at the University of California found 57 forced labor operations between 1998 and 2003 throughout California. These operations – mostly in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose – involved more than 500 victims from 18 countries.

The US Department of Justice recently announced that in the first 21 months of operation, the Human Trafficking Reporting System (HTRS) recorded information on more than 1,200 alleged incidents of human trafficking.

According to the Justice Department, over 90 percent of victims in both alleged and confirmed human trafficking incidents were female. Nearly 60 percent of victims in labor trafficking cases were female and almost all (99%) victims in sex trafficking cases were female.

Hispanic victims comprised the largest share (37 percent) of alleged sex trafficking victims and more than half (56 percent) of alleged labor trafficking victims. Asians made up 10 percent of alleged sex trafficking victims, compared to 31 percent of labor trafficking victims. Approximately two-thirds of victims in alleged human trafficking incidents were age 17 or younger (27 percent) or age 18 to 24 (38 percent). Sex trafficking victims tended to be younger (71 percent were under age 25) and labor trafficking victims tended to be older (almost 70 percent were age 25 or older).

Nearly eight in 10 human trafficking suspects were male. US citizens accounted for 66 percent of suspects in alleged incidents.

SB 782 and SB 557 will now be considered by the State Assembly.

If you are a victim of domestic violence or if you want to report an incident of domestic violence, call the 24-hour-a-day toll-free National Hotline at 1-(800) 799-SAFE or 1-(800) 787-3224 (TDD).

If you are a victim of trafficking or an organization needing assistance, please contact the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Original story from California Chronicle

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