Two media pieces on compensation for rape and sex worker rights

San Francisco Chronicle

 Effort seeks to help all rape victims get state aid

Stephanie M. Lee
Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A woman who is raped in California may be able to receive financial compensation for wage losses, health care and other needs through a state program for victims of violent crime.

But if a woman is raped during an act of prostitution, the law says she is probably out of luck.

On Tuesday, groups of activists called for an end to the provision that they say effectively blames prostitutes for crimes committed against them.

“It seems totally unfair that a woman who has been brutally beaten and raped is to be denied on the basis of the program deciding that she is a sex worker and therefore not eligible,” said Rachel West, a spokeswoman for the Bay Area branch of the US PROStitutes Collective, which helped stage a news conference Tuesday night in San Francisco’s Main Library.

California’s Victim Compensation Program was created in 1965 to help victims and their families in the aftermath of violent crimes committed against them. In addition to sexual assault, the program covers victims of domestic violence, murder and other violent crimes, and the funds come from fines levied on all convicted criminals.

But the program can consider a victim’s involvement in activities leading up to the crime when determining whether compensation will be awarded.

Regulation 649.56, for example, says funds may be denied to a victim if the victim was “engaged in activity related to prostitution” leading up to the crime, and if “the crime occurred as a direct result of the activity related to prostitution.” The state defines this activity as including soliciting, purchasing, pimping and engaging in an act of prostitution.

That provision came to the attention of US PROStitutes Collective, West said, when a local woman approached the group to report that she had been attacked, raped and robbed by a man she let into her house. West said the woman applied for compensation funds, but authorities denied her request by citing Regulation 649.56.

US PROStitutes is not the only advocacy group attempting to have the provision struck down. The Erotic Service Providers Union has started a Change.org petition calling for its repeal, and more than 1,000 people have signed it.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has also asked the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, which oversees the compensation program, to repeal it.

In response, the state board that oversees victim compensation plans to review the law. Jon Myers, the board’s deputy executive officer of public affairs and legislation, said the board’s staff will present a report at its Dec. 12 board meeting. It will give board members “a chance to decide when they have all the facts in front of them and do what’s right for victims of California,” he said.

This year, the board amended the regulation to exempt victims of human trafficking, making anyone who was raped or beaten after being forced into the sex trade eligible for compensation.

The board should now overturn Regulation 649.56, said ACLU attorney Kim Horiuchi, because it “sends a terrible message to victims of crime.”

“It says women who are beaten and raped because of their circumstances deserve what they get,” she said.

Chronicle staff writer Bob Egelko contributed to this report. Stephanie M. Lee is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: slee@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @stephaniemlee

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► KPFA Radio did an interview on sex workers rights on the Letters and Politics show and there was a debate following it on their website.  Check out the debate on the link below.  To hear the interview, it is ½ hour into the show so scroll to 31.14 minutes and it begins there.

http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/97263

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