California Bill Would Make It Safer for Sex Workers to Report Violent Crimes

California lawmakers have introduced a bill that would make it safer for sex workers to report violent crimes by shielding them from prosecution when they’re reporting crimes, such as rape and physical assault, to law enforcement.

In addition, the bill would bar law enforcement from using condoms as evidence that someone is a sex worker. In other words, if someone is arrested and they happen to be carrying a box of condoms, the cops couldn’t use that against them.

The intent of the bill is to help prevent a common situation: A sex worker experiences a violent crime — such as rape, physical assault or armed robbery — but is afraid to report it, fearing stigmatization and arrest. This scenario is a significant issue for sex workers. They’re at increased risk of experiencing violent crime because people view them as “easy targets,” knowing law enforcement are less likely to believe them when they report — and that those who do report could end up being arrested in the process.

The use of condoms against people is another issue. Lots of people have reason to carry around some condoms, but law enforcement treats the possession of condoms as probable cause for being involved in sex work. That puts pressure on sex workers to avoid carrying condoms for fear of having the condoms used against them. So eliminating the ability to treat a box of condoms as evidence of a crime would be a big step for safety.

This legislation wouldn’t be decriminalization of sex work. But it would help address the epidemic of violence against sex workers in the United States at an especially important moment. Ever since SESTA/FOSTA severely restricted the ability to safely advertise and communicate online, endangered sex workers have lost valuable tools for protecting themselves and connecting with colleagues.

It also mirrors a shift in law enforcement practices in San Francisco, which has taken a “prioritizing safety for sex workers” approach to interactions with members of the sex work profession. When sex workers approach law enforcement to report violent crimes, the district attorney has directed them to focus on taking reports, not charging them with violations of the penal code that pertain to sex work. Law enforcement in the city were also directed to work with sex worker-led organizations on developing a protocol for interacting with sex workers and bridging an understandably historically tense divide.

Criminalizing sex work doesn’t stop trafficking — something sex workers are very concerned about, along with everyone else. But it does make sex workers more vulnerable and increases the risk of exploitation and violent crime. Sex workers are just trying to provide a very in-demand service. And bills like California’s are an important baby step toward decriminalization, which would allow them to work openly and therefore more safely. The Free Speech Coalition, which represents the adult entertainment industry nationwide, has issued a letter in support of the bill.

This legislation is a long way from becoming law. It needs to pass both chambers of the California legislature and be signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Conservative groups are likely to oppose it both because it involves sex work and shielding people from prosecution. California residents can contact their lawmakers to let them know they’re interested in the legislation. It’s important to hear from constituents early to build momentum for a bill!

And before you ask: No, this wouldn’t shield sex workers from prosecution for any and all crimes when they report violent crimes. It applies specifically to misdemeanors associated with sections of the penal code on sex work.

Photo credit: spukkato/Getty Images

49 comments

Sarah A
Sarah A21 hours ago

Thank you for posting

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Bob L
Bob Lewis4 days ago

This bill might be a significant step towards curbing the victimization of sex workers. Since the advent of SESTA/FOSTA, it has been terrifyingly difficult for sex workers to protect themselves and connecting with colleagues. They have been forced to go back to the streets and get in altercation with the local pimps. Decriminalization is the only measure that can ensure unemployment benefits and health care benefits to the sex workers. According to this article written by a prostitute, https://sexbroker.io/blog/prostitution-between-legality-and-illegality sex workers from around the world are victimized everyday and there are numerous countries that still impose penalties from them.

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Ellie L
Emma L4 days ago

Thank you

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Leo C
Leo Custer11 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Louise A
Lara A12 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Leo Custer
Leo Custer13 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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berny p
berny p15 days ago

In other countries you have publicity in television for safer sex and to educate people to be responsible and to care by using condoms. and have them in school too...thank God not every country is so backwood!

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Karen H
Karen H18 days ago

If our politicians would stop patronizing sex workers, it would make a big difference.

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Tania N
Tania N18 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Tania N
Tania N18 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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