California Senate unanimously approves child-trafficking bill


The California Capitol is pictured in April 2022. (Photo by Josh Hild via Unsplash)

J.W. August

In a rare unanimous vote, the state Senate has passed legislation that would make trafficking of minors a serious felony.

Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), who authored Senate Bill 14, which was approved on May 26, originally attempted to make all types of trafficking a serious crime, but the revised version narrowed the focus to the trafficking of minors. Despite that, advocates across the state were cheered by the measure’s passage, as were victims who spoke out in praising what they consider a long overdue effort.

Shannon Grove
Shannon Grove

Human trafficking, the bill’s supporters point out, is one of the world’s fastest growing and most lucrative crimes, generating around $150 billion around the world each year. SB-14, if passed next by the state Assembly and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, would add human trafficking of a minor to a list of felony crimes such as rape and murder, and make it a strike offense under California’s Three Strikes law.

“This legislation sends a strong message to human traffickers who would prey on minors that there will be severe consequences for their actions,” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “It is such an injustice to our child victims to not afford them the dignity of holding their abusers properly accountable.”

Summer Stephan
Summer Stephan

Former trafficking victims spoke publicly about the need for the legislation, including one woman whose identity was not disclosed.

“The passing of this bill means so much for the survivors like myself,” she said in speaking in support of the senator’s legislation. “My first time being trafficked was 13 years old. And I wasn’t able to escape that life until I was almost 18. So a few months before my 18th birthday, my trafficker still had not been prosecuted and continued on to traffic many other people as he had trafficked many people before me.”

Another victim, who also was not identified, recalled that when she was being trafficked, “the constant violence and the manipulation kept me confused and abused. And I think that there’s a disconnect of the reality of where human trafficking is. It’s here. It’s in our backyard.”

Odessa Perkins was also a child victim and said, “There’s a lot that goes into human trafficking. It’s sexual assault, it’s molestation, it’s domestic violence, and it starts at a very young age. I started being touched and then I was groomed.”

She, like other victims, was elated about the bill’s passage in the Senate.

“And we’re going to just give a voice to the voiceless now, it’s just amazing,” Perkins said. “It’s amazing to know that it’s finally going forward.”

Dr. Angela Look works for the Department of Health Services in Kern County where Sen. Shannon is from.
“This is a very intense trauma that they experienced, and this does not go away overnight,” Look said. “For the victims and the survivors, it’s something that they live with for a lifetime.”

In San Diego, Marisa Ugarte of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, an anti-trafficking organization, said she had mixed feelings about the legislation.

“The BSCC couldn’t be more pleased with the passing of SB14; however, we need to consider making it a felony for adult victims, too,” she said. “Human trafficking is a severe crime for anyone trapped by this modern day slavery.”

Sen. Shannon agreed, and while she is thankful the legislation is moving forward and that it “will protect countless children who are trafficked,” she also said, “I remain committed to continuing to fight for survivors and victims of all ages.”

J.W. August is a longtime San Diego broadcast and digital journalist.