Traffic STOP

Chico State club promotes anti-trafficking measure

Mayra Mendez, a freshman liberal-studies major and member of STOP, sits at an information table promoting Prop. 35 outside Butte Hall on the Chico State campus.

Mayra Mendez, a freshman liberal-studies major and member of STOP, sits at an information table promoting Prop. 35 outside Butte Hall on the Chico State campus.

Photo By Kjerstin Wood

The Stop Trafficking of Persons (STOP) club at Chico State has been tabling every day for the past few weeks, raising awareness for the upcoming vote on Proposition 35.

Selling fair-trade chocolate and stickers and handing out fliers, the 4-year-old campus club supports Prop. 35 and wants to increase awareness of the issue of human trafficking, said Alyssa Higgs, president of STOP.

Higgs first got involved in the group because of a course she took about social movements, and she has stayed involved ever since. She had never heard of human trafficking before, and it caught her by surprise.

“I thought slavery had ended,” she said.

Prop. 35 will increase penalties for those found guilty of human trafficking both in the labor and sex industries, according to the official title and summary by the state attorney general. It would also require traffickers to register as sex offenders, and require training for police officers to better identify human trafficking. The funds raised from increased fines would be split between victim services and police training programs.

Human trafficking is forcing someone to do work or some act for the benefit of a separate individual, Higgs said.

Trafficking is very lucrative because it is easy to get involved in, said Janja Lalich, faculty adviser for STOP and a sociology professor at Chico State. Anything that increases penalties and fines, and makes someone think twice about trafficking others, is a good thing.

“If people think that they are actually going to get convicted and penalized, that their property will be taken away and used to help victims, that will threaten them,” Lalich said.

More people tend to know about sex trafficking, because of movies like Taken with Liam Neeson, Higgs said. But labor trafficking is just as much of a problem, and STOP tries to let people know there are “two sides to the coin.”

The fact that people are even starting to talk about the issue of human trafficking will help people understand what they can do on an individual level to end it, Higgs said. She said she often receives emails from individuals asking how they can get involved in making a change.

In Northern California specifically, there are people trafficked onto farms, Higgs said. Those who are trafficked are constantly indebted to their traffickers, being charged for housing and food, as well as having their passports held from them.

The first human-trafficking law in California was passed in September 2005. Assembly Bill 22 made trafficking a felony and provides assistance to victims, according to a Human Trafficking in California Final Report, published by the California Attorney General’s Office and the Crime and Violence Prevention Center in October 2007.

One of the criticisms of Prop. 35 is that sex offenders would now have to turn over information regarding online screen names and Internet service providers, regardless of how long ago or how severe their offenses were, according the ACLU of Northern California website. This would infringe upon a person’s ability to participate in anonymous online discussions, inhibiting First Amendment rights.

When the CN&R contacted the ACLU’s Northern California office, a representative stated the organization is not making any comments regarding Prop. 35 other than what is posted on their website.

Even if the proposition fails, it got people talking about the issue, Lalich said.

Law enforcement needs the training to properly identify human trafficking and help victims understand why the situation they are in is dangerous, Higgs said. In her eyes, it makes more sense for the money for that training and victims’ services to come from those convicted of trafficking crimes, instead of from taxpayers.

Students who make up the STOP group come from a variety of majors and backgrounds, and involvement gives them the opportunity to explore the issue of human trafficking, Lalich said. Every semester the group is able to gather dedicated and energetic students.

Lalich said she is proud of the group’s accomplishments, from hosting the very first weeklong human trafficking conference last spring, to movie nights and guest speakers. The club’s main goal is to raise awareness, and it has made an impact on the Chico State campus and in the community.