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California Legislature

Bill that would expand the evidence prosecutors can use against sex traffickers in court goes to Gov. Brown

Assemblywoman Toni Atkins. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Assemblywoman Toni Atkins. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The state Senate on Thursday sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill that would expand the evidence that prosecutors can bring forth at trial against defendants charged with selling victims for sex.

The legislation, filed by Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), would allow prosecutors to call on witnesses or provide records that speak to a criminal suspect's character, in attempts to show to the jury a pattern of abuse toward the victim. Such evidence is prohibited at trial, except in cases involving sexual assault domestic violence, or abuse of a child or an elder.

In a statement, Atkins said the change in the court rule would lead to more convictions of sex predators.

Sex traffickers can be difficult to prosecute, social workers and prosecutors say, as victims are often young and tied to their abusers through complicated psychological and emotional bonds. Often, they refuse to testify out of fear or because they are coerced.

Atkins is among the lawmakers pushing the issue at the Capitol, where legislation has focused on targeting traffickers, protecting victims and addressing what advocates say is a law enforcement culture in which child survivors sometimes are treated like criminals.

Another of her proposals would have required hotels and motels to train their employees to spot signs of human trafficking. But it was shelved in a fiscal committee.

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