Community Event November 12, 2013: Stop Discrimination in Compensation for Rape: Justice for Sex Workers is Justice for All

2013-11-12 19.45.43On Tuesday, November 12, over 50 people filled the Latino/Hispanic room in the main San Francisco Public Library. They gathered to take part in an urgent discussion concerning discriminatory practices within the California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP). A number of media representatives also attended including KGO Radio, the SF Chronicle, Associated Press and others.

2013-11-12 19.45.59Four speakers were invited to discuss their perspectives on CalVCP’s regulations that prevent sex workers and formerly incarcerated people from getting compensation for rape and other violent crime: Rachel West, US PROStitutes Collective; Maxine Doogan, Erotic Service Providers Union; Kimberly Horiuchi, ACLU; Ida McCray, Families without A Future and All of Us or None. They described their campaigning to get the regulations removed and invited those attending to be involved.

Rape victims, sex workers, formerly incarcerated women and others movingly described the injustice and discrimination they face, and raised several major concerns with the current CalVCP statute and regulations. One problem raised that sex workers’ exclusion from compensation is based on police reports and these officers are often biased in their judgments and paint a broad stroke of those they deem to be working in the sex industry.
Speakers challenged the implication in the regulations that a woman brought rape on herself. They said it doesn’t matter how it happened to you, rape is rape. Rape victims who are sex workers and formerly incarcerated people should not be cast aside as undeserving, all victims should be treated the same. It was also noted that most women who were in prison are victims themselves. Prison was described as a slave-run institution.

During the Speak Out others raised how the criminalization of sex work makes it more difficult to report violence, increasing the number of unreported cases of rape & assault. How prostitution is forced underground and sex workers are sitting ducks for violence. They decried sex workers exclusion from the city discourse on violence due to the current anti-trafficking framework which recognizes only one kind of violence.

A number of people spoke about the poverty of women and children who are the fastest growing population of homeless people — how sex work is an economic activity to combat poverty. Others pointed to the high rate of women going to prison due to the criminalization of survival. They said how the regulation excluding sex workers makes all women vulnerable as anyone can be labeled a prostitute. The discrimination also extends to family members of women murdered who can’t claim funeral expenses.
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A young Black woman described how claiming compensation was a huge effort taking months given her family history with the police, but when she got it, it gave her recognition that she deserved to be safe. A young man raised how when you have been sexually assaulted, it can negatively affect your ability to work, and you can be thrown into poverty.
The event highlighted the level of victim blaming found in these current California laws.

Many women are ostracized from using the services provided from CalVCP because of their immigration status, their income level, or are considered “unworthy victims.” Also raised was the problem of having to cooperate with law enforcement to get compensation, especially for communities of color, who face harassment and brutality from the police.
Also pointed out was the unfairness of the compensation program’s funding coming from restitution extracted from prisoners, rather than the state paying for compensation. Overall, on top of being an informative space about the campaign, this was a forum where LGBTQ people, people of color, sex workers, women and formerly incarcerated people expressed their own experiences and concerns about either engaging or attempting to engage CALVCP.

The event was part of a campaign to press CalVCP to remove these regulations and in preparation for a CalVCP Board meeting on December 12. The Board has agreed to conduct a full review of regulation 649.56 excluding sex workers and a proposal is being presented at that meeting and a legal challenge to repeal the regulations. An Action Alert and a petition for signing and other information was distributed at the meeting.

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