Bakersfield · California · Fresno

‘Long overdue’: Grove, Valley law enforcement press for stricter penalties for human traffickers

For Odessa Perkins of Bakersfield, her childhood was supposed to be filled with playing with dolls and wearing cute dresses.

“Instead, I was put on perfume, revealing clothing, and I was penetrated. I was molested, raped, and sold to the highest bidder – daily,” Perkins said during a Friday afternoon press conference.

As it stands today, men who trafficked a young Perkins in Kern County would face criminal penalties on par with theft or vandalism, as California deems human trafficking a non-serious, non-violent offense.

Perkins, citing her own experience, whole-heartedly disagreed.

That’s why she joined Sen. Shannon Grove (R–Bakersfield) to support a proposed law, Senate Bill 1042, aimed at upgrading human trafficking offenses to a serious and violent felony under California’s Penal Code.

If approved, traffickers convicted for their offenses would face a strike under California’s Three Strikes law.

“I made it out through sheer determination,” she said at a press conference said Friday. “And now with Senate Bill 1042, this (legislation) will help others just like me make it out as well.”

“What happens to one of us should be the business of all of us,” Perkins said, quoting Mamie Till-Mobley, civil rights activist and mother of Emmett Till.

Noting California’s extensive border with Mexico and sizable number of major airports, Grove noted that the Golden State is a hot-bed of human trafficking.

“Defining human trafficking as both violent and a serious felony is long overdue,” Grove said.

In Fresno, Asm. Jim Patterson (R–Fresno), a top backer of the bill in the Assembly, and Fresno County law enforcement leaders similarly expressed the dire need for upgraded abilities to prosecute human traffickers.

Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, a long-time domestic violence prosecutor before her election to the top-job, backed the bill and noted the devastating effects trafficking has on its victims.

“When girls are trafficked horrific things happen to them,” she said. “There are promises of fun and entertainment and nice clothes, but when they get there they are beaten and abused and forced into a life of having sex with strangers. Some of these children are as young as 11, 12, and 13 years old when they are taken into this life.”

Les Hubbard is a contributing reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun.