Statement by Legal Action for Women on rape compensation discriminatory regulation

Statement at a California Victim Compensation meeting, May 16, 2013,  by Lori Nairne, Legal Action for Women (LAW)

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1984, we help women who cannot afford lawyers get legal advice and support.  Over the years many women have used our service who have been victims of violence.

We are here today to support the call for a review and remove the regulations related to sex worker 649.56/Involvement in the Qualifying Crime of Prostitution.  We question the legality of the rule, not backed by a statute.  If a conviction for prostitution is not required, how precisely do you decide a woman is a sex worker?  Is it the labelling of women as sluts that gets them excluded by this rule or is it the presumption that money changed hands?

No woman is safe when prostitute women are not safe. In our experience, violent men often start with sex workers and go on to kill other women and most of the victims are raped and otherwise brutalized before they are killed.  We are currently monitoring the case of Joseph Naso, an alleged serial murderer in Marin county, accused of killing four prostitute women.

In early 2000, we also were part of a community monitoring team at the trial of serial rapist Jack Bokin.  He was ultimately convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault, kidnapping, rape, false imprisonment, and grievous bodily harm.  Three of the victims were prostitute women, one was not, but she had a record of several crimes including shoplifting baby food to feed her child.  Under 649.56, the three sex workers were not eligible to apply for Victim Compensation.  And women like the fourth woman are often discouraged at the local level from even applying to the Victim Compensation program.

As the economic crisis deepens, we see more women are forced to do whatever they can to feed their children and keep their housing. This results in increasing numbers of mothers being criminalized.  When you have a criminal record you face widespread discrimination for example in the waged work force, in the provision of housing and other services. It is insufferable that in addition you are considered not eligible for compensation, if you are raped or suffer other violence. 

Under rule 649.56 the families of the serial murder victims in Marin also will have no right for victim compensation since their mothers, sisters, daughters wives were alleged prostitutes.

These deep injustices send the message that some women are disposable.  It has widespread consequences. When victims of violent rape and sexual assault do not get justice, their lives can fall apart, they may start using drugs and end of in prison.  Most women in prison report histories of rape and sexual assault.

How can we be confident that once the board has this discretionary power to judge victims according to their occupation, and lifestyle that other judgements aren’t being made on the basis of race, disability, sexual orientation or income level?

Regulations that discriminate against sex workers increase all women’s vulnerability to rape and murder. This kind of institutionalized discrimination has a corrupting effect on the whole compensation system. We support the demand today for a special hearing and for these discriminatory regulations to be reviewed and removed.

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