Prop 35 hopes to fight sex trafficking


Leah Albright-Byrd is a college graduate with a bright future, but she began life in a dysfunctional family battling drugs and violence.

"The third time that I ran away from home was at the age of 14 and that's when I met my first trafficker," said Albright-Byrd. She was vulnerable and the man who exploited her knew what to do. "It was saying things like, 'I love you more than your parents do,' you know and because I didn't feel loved by my parents because of the some of the things I'd experienced as a child, it wasn't hard for me to believe that."

They met in San Francisco, but soon Albright-Byrd was part of a group of girls driven all over California and Nevada to be sold for sex. The man who said he loved her now said she was worthless.

"I believed the lie that once I was in that life, I would always be in that life, because that's what pimps tell you," said Albright-Byrd. She suffered four years of abuse, both physical and mental. "You have to disassociate yourself with what you're experiencing because it is so traumatizing."

The Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley says Albright-Byrd's story is shockingly common and the Bay Area is a hub. She said, "We're talking about what's happening on our streets with our children."

That's why O'Malley says it's time for Proposition 35. She said, "We need to change attitudes, we need to change the law, we need to increase protection for people who are being trafficked."

Proposition 35 will increase penalties for human trafficking from the current five to eight years to 12 years to life, with fines up to $1.5 million. Law enforcement officers would be required to have at least two hours of training in human trafficking and every convicted sex trafficker would have to register as a sex offender.

"The goal of all this is safe communities and to stop the victimization of children and women being treated as slaves," said O'Malley.

Prop 35 is supported by a long list of law enforcement agencies. It's financed by more than $2 million from former Facebook executive Chris Kelly. The opposition is led by the Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project.

"Prop 35 will not bring any protection to sex trafficked victims. It's not based on any evidence that shows it works. The evidence actually shows that education is what is a bigger deterrent to sex trafficking," said Maxine Doogan from Erotic Service Providers Legal Education. The group believes Prop 35's definition of sex trafficking is too broad. "So we think it's really an anti-prostitution piece of legislation under the guise of rescuing trafficked victims."

The American Civil Liberties Union is against Prop 35 because it would require all sex offenders -- no matter what their crime -- to register their online screen names with law enforcement. The ACLU says that infringes on the right to free speech. Other opponents say Prop 35 doesn't do enough to help the victims.

"We think trafficked victims should not have to be arrested for prostitution first in order to be identified as victims," said Doogan.

Albright-Byrd was one of those victims, but she is supporting Prop 35 and she's reconciled with her mother.

"Oh man, she was so proud when she held up that shirt [saying Yes on Prop 35]. I saw the look on her face and... Yeah, it's been a long time coming," said Albright-Byrd.

Albright-Byrd was rescued by church outreach workers and she has now founded her own organization to rescue trafficking victims. It is named after a friend and trafficking victim who was murdered.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.

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