|The US PROStitutes Collective (US PROS) strongly supports SB 233 Improving Sex Worker Health and Safety which prohibits the arrest of sex workers when they come forward as a victim or a witness to report violent and serious crimes. We welcome any legislation which aims to increase safety for sex workers by removing and reducing barriers for sex workers to report violent crime. This bill is a major step forward in tackling the widespread rape and other violence suffered by sex workers.
US PROS is a network of sex workers based in the Bay Area since 1982. For decades it has been calling on city and state bodies in California to implement measures to address violence against sex workers. With others, we worked on the ground breaking San Francisco Police and District Attorney’s Office Prioritizing Safety for Sex Workers policies granting immunity from arrest and prosecution for sex workers, laying the groundwork for SB 233. We also spearheaded a successful campaign to remove discriminatory rules from the CA Victim Compensation program that denied sex workers the right to compensation.
This bill is needed to address the high level of violence against sex workers. Sixty percent of sex workers experience some form of occupational violence. Protection for victims of rape and other violence depends on the ability of survivors to come forward to report to police. Serial murderers often start by attacking sex workers, knowing that women won’t report for fear of arrest, and then move on to other women. In South LA, over 200 Black women, many but not all of whom were sex workers, have been killed or gone missing. The police labelled the murders as NHI “No Humans Involved” and it took years of campaigning by the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders to get the police to take action. US PROS has supported this work for many years.
This bill would help address discriminatory enforcement of the prostitution laws. Black people make up approximately 13% of the population, yet over 40% of all prostitution arrests[i]. Sex workers of color are less likely to report crimes against us to the police. Fear of police “is particularly true for people of color, street-based sex workers, and transgender women who face the most harassment and arrests”. (See the bill’s fact sheet for more info).
This bill is needed to enhance sex workers’ health. SB 233 calls for the possession of condoms not to be used as probable cause to arrest someone for sex work. Sex workers will be more able to negotiate condom use with clients and access health services.
There is public support for measures to reduce violence against sex workers. When we reached out to Californians for support for our campaign to stop sex workers being excluded from victim compensation, we found widespread compassion and concern about sex workers’ safety.
We urge Californians to support this life saving bill so that sex workers can more easily report violence, so that police can prioritize safety over prosecution for prostitution offences and so that that condoms aren’t used as incriminating evidence of prostitution. When violent attackers who target the most vulnerable among us are stopped, all women and all people will be safer.