Victory: Amnesty from arrest for sex workers reporting crime

January 11, 2018,  ***PRESS RELEASE***

San Francisco announces first in-the-country policies to support sex workers who are victims or witnesses to violence in reporting to law enforcement.

“Prioritizing Safety for Sex Worker” policies would protect a sex worker reporting a violent crime from arrest or prosecution for prostitution or minor drug offenses 

According to new policies released by the City’s two largest law enforcement agencies, the San Francisco Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office, sex workers will not be arrested or prosecuted for prostitution or minor drug offenses, they are reporting a violent crime. Created in partnership with the Department on the Status of Women and local sex worker rights organizations, including members of the Sex Worker and Trafficking Policy Impact Committee of the Mayor’s Task Force on Anti-Human Trafficking, the policies are designed to prioritize the safety of sex workers over the prosecution of misdemeanor prostitution and drug related offenses, and to reduce the likelihood that victims of violence will themselves end up arrested or incarcerated.

“Our hope for this policy is to reduce the harm experienced by sex workers, in particular, women of color and transgender women engaged in the sex trades, who have no protections when reporting violence, or experience mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement,” said Johanna Breyer, Executive Director of St. James Infirmary.

Minouche Kandel, Director of Women’s Policy at the Department on the Status of Women, called the policy “a major step towards addressing violence against women wary of contacting law enforcement because of their criminalized status.”

“Our research and direct service work in San Francisco have shown that most sex workers, and people experiencing exploitation in the sex industry, do not go to the police when they have been victimized.  This policy is the first step towards creating a social and political environment where people can seek help when they are victims of violence,” said Alexandra Lutnick, Senior Research Scientist at RTI International.

“For decades sex workers have been pressing the city for safety to be prioritized so we welcome these policies which will make it easier to report violence. This change is particularly needed since national figures show discrimination in the implementation of the prostitution laws and since recent reports show officers taking advantage of vulnerable sex workers. We’ll be keeping a close eye on how the policies are implemented”. Rachel West, US PROStitutes Collective.

Law enforcement officials say these policies send a clear message to violent perpetrators that violence against sex workers will be treated seriously under the law.  “If we fail to prioritize this population’s health and safety they will not come forward and work with law enforcement as witnesses and victims of violence,” said District Attorney George Gascón.  “Ultimately, unreported crimes and criminals pose a threat to everyone’s public safety.”

“This policy underscores our commitment to providing services to all victims,” said Police Chief William Scott. “We understand that many times sex workers are themselves victims of predators and human traffickers. Our policy is written in the spirit of encouraging sex workers to feel safe coming forward to law enforcement, with the knowledge that they will be treated with respect and their concerns will be taken seriously and investigated.”

In many jurisdictions across the U.S., sex workers are arrested if they report violent crimes. “We hope these policies- the first of their kind in the nation- will serve as a model for other jurisdictions where criminalized sex workers face high rates of violence,” said Carol Leigh of Bayswan.

View the Police Department Policy here and the District Attorney Policy here.

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