A campaign to protest discriminatory regulations of the Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) is gaining momentum in California. CalVCP is a statewide program that provides financial compensation for victims of rape and other violent crime. Cal VCP’s regulations exclude sex workers and ex-prisoners on felony probation or parole from getting compensation.
The impetus for the campaign was a woman who was brutally raped and attacked in her home and was then denied victim compensation.
CalVCP downplayed the rape and violence and used Regulation 649.56 Involvement in the Qualifying Crime of Prostitution to refuse her compensation alleging that she is a sex worker. Ms R has no convictions for prostitution so the Board’s decision was made purely on the basis of a judgment about her lifestyle. An organizing effort to get justice for Ms R and scrap this discriminatory regulation was initiated by US PROStitutes Collective (US PROS) and Erotic Service Providers (ESP).
Ms R has appealed the decision and along with US PROS, ESP and other supporters submitted written objections and testified at two oral hearings against this discriminatory regulation. Objections were also made to Regulation 649.4(b) which excludes formerly incarcerated people on felony probation or parole from the compensation scheme.
These protests seemed to have an immediate impact as on May 16 CalVCP called for an “open discussion” on all the regulations. US PROS quickly pulled together a meeting with a number of supportive organizations and groups, including the ACLU, Legal Action for Women, Sin Barras in Santa Cruz and Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike. Within two days, 16 organizations (including church groups, women’s, victims’, mothers’, sex worker rights groups, harm reduction services, homeless advocates, anti-poverty, anti-war and support organizations for Veterans) agreed to sign a statement calling for the removal of Regulation 649.56 and Regulation 649.4(b) and asked the CalVCP board to hold a public hearing. It also demanded a review of all discriminatory regulations allowing sufficient time for the public to have input.
This immediate response reflected how shocked people are to find out that such blatant bias still exists, where a value judgment is made that rape is not as serious for some women as it is for others — specifically sex workers and formerly incarcerated people, many of whom are also victims of rape.
On the morning of May 16th, the statement was presented to CalVCP’s board meeting in Sacramento by US PROS and Legal Action for Women. Rachel West, US PROS, raised in her oral evidence that these regulations demean the suffering of some victims, labeling them as undeserving of acknowledgment and protection, as well as the financial means that can help recovery.
“We refuse to be divided into good and bad victims. Denying justice and protection to some of us puts us all at risk because any one of us can be deemed unworthy and told our lives count for nothing.”
She also raised that the shredding of the safety net, and welfare cuts have pushed more women, particularly mothers, into prostitution.
“It is no accident that mothers, convicted of crimes of poverty are the majority of women in prison. They are then denied access to compensation if they are victims of rape and other violent crimes.”
Ms R also testified: “I was judged and disqualified as an unworthy victim by your program, and the seriousness of my injuries was overlooked. I was dragged from room to room, there was blood everywhere, my head was squeezed and my ear drum ruptured and I was raped – all this was discounted. I was made to feel that I was somehow responsible for the events leading to the “qualifying crime”. No, I didn’t ask to be raped. And my actions did not encourage the rape. How can there be a law like this? Are only some rape victims innocent victims?”
Willow Katz a survivor of rape, incest, and physical abuse, said: “It takes tremendous courage and persistence to tell others and keep reliving the agony in order to heal. Compensation provides recognition of our pain and harm, and money for healthcare, food, shelter, counseling, and community services essential to recover.”
Lori Nairne, from Legal Action for Women (LAW) asked: “How can we be confident that once the board has this discretionary power to judge victims according to their occupation, and lifestyle, that other judgments aren’t being made on the basis of race, disability, sexual orientation or income level?”
Ruth Todasco, from the Global Women’s Strike, called in by phone from LA and said “Drawing on my experience working with rape victims in Oklahoma, who were treated as “bad women”, the impact of not being worthy of having their case taken seriously led to serious depression and thoughts of suicide. A young Black woman with a record of prostitution who broke her jaw and both legs escaping from the rapist whom she even identified could not get the DA to take her case. We had to picket his office to get an arrest made.”
Others gave evidence by phone or in person to the Board. One important point that was raised was the connection between the discrimination faced by sex workers and formerly incarcerated people: victims of rape and sexual assault face many obstacles in seeing their attacker brought to court, even more so if the woman is a sex worker. This lack of justice has a devastating impact and can cause women’s lives to fall apart. Some end up in prison themselves. It is estimated that over 70% of women in prison are rape victims.
The chair of the CalVCP Board, Anna Caballero, said we made good points and agreed that the regulations needed to be looked into. Wayne Strumpfer, chief counsel for the CalVCP board, said that the advocacy at the board meeting was successful and that a series of hearings on Regulation 649.56 Involvement in the Qualifying Crime of Prostitution will be held! This was very good news, a victory for the campaign!
The next phase of this campaign will be preparing for the hearings on regulation 649.56 which we have heard will be in July. The outcome of the hearings will be presented to the CalVCP board meeting on September 19.
In demanding an end to discrimination in compensation awards, we make a way for all rape victims fighting for justice. If we get these regulations scrapped in California, other states could follow, so that all victims, no matter who we are, how we dress, where we go, how we act or whom we date — get the compensation and justice we all deserve.
Sign-on supporters for May 16:
ACLU of Northern California
BAYSWAN, Bay Area Sex Worker Advocacy Network
California Crime Victims; Coalition on Homelessness/SF
Californians United for Responsible Budget
Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project
Every Mother is a Working Mother Network
Faithful Fools Street Ministry
Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace
Global Women’s Strike
Harm Reduction Coalition
Legal Action for Women
Long Beach Area Peace Network
Los Angeles Community Action Network
National Lawyers Guild/San Francisco Bay Area Chapter
Orange County Peace Coalition
Sex Workers’ Outreach Project/Bay Area
US PROStitutes Collective
Veterans For Peace chapters 067 and 110