California To Pass Bill for the Health and Safety of Sex Workers

On July 1, 2019, the California Assembly passed SB 233 54-13. SB 233 is an act to amend section 1162 of the penal code by prohibiting the arrest of a person for misdemeanor drug- or prostitution-related offenses if that person is reporting a specified crime including assault, domestic violence, extortion, human trafficking, sexual battery or stalking. It also repeals section 781.1 of the Evidence Code, which allows condoms to be admissible as evidence in the prosecution of prostitution crimes. The bill was first introduced in February 2019 by sponsor Sen. Weiner (D), who has said the legislation is "about protecting victims and increasing public safety. … The last thing we need is for sex workers to be further victimized when they report a crime." The ease and safety of condoms access is also a driving factor. A study by Human Rights Watch found that fear of arrest often overwhelmed workers’ need to protect themselves from STDs and pregnancy. A Los Angeles-based sex worker reported using plastic bags (Clark-Fory, 2019).

SB 233 is en encouraging first step towards combatting the vulnerability of sex workers and “creating a social and political environment in California where people can seek help when they are victims of violence” says Dr. Alexandria Lutnick, senior research scientist with Aviva Consulting). Many cities, such as San Francisco and New York, have taken local action to implement these policies already, but it is important that they be initiated xx state for community and individual protection. The bill is now in the Senate with assembly amendments pending. DSW's directors have sent letters of support encouraging California Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign SB 233.

State Senator Scott Wiener (photo: sd11.senate.ca.gov)