The California State Legislature has passed a new bill which will help sex workers feel safer reporting crimes and carrying condoms, which Gov. Gavin Newsom intends to sign. SB 233, sponsored by State Sen. Scott Wiener, offers immunity to sex workers who report certain crimes and will also prevent the carrying of condoms being used as evidence of sex work.
“No one is safer when sex workers are afraid to report crimes and acts of violence. Silence only helps the perpetrators of those crimes. This legislation will help ensure serious and violent crimes are reported to law enforcement, and I thank the legislature for sending it to my desk,” said Newsom in an official press release.
In the bill, sex workers gain the ability to report being a victim of or a witness to certain dangerous crimes, including crimes related to assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual battery, along with other crimes without fear of arrest for prostitution or a misdemeanor drug offense. This is the case if such an offense occurred “at or around the time when they were a victim of or witness to the crime they are reporting.” It will also preclude the use of evidence of violating laws prohibiting prostitution to prosecute sex workers in separate cases when it is shared in the context of reporting a more serious crime.
The bill comes at a time of increasing conversation about sex work in the public and the legal system’s failure to protect sex workers from violence. According to a 2014 study by the University of California, San Francisco and St. James Infirmary, 60% of sex workers will experience some form of violence while working. Because of the potential of being arrested for sex work, victims often do not come forward, effectively leaving many perpetrators free of consequences.
Sex work decriminalization as it stands will continue to be an important topic politically, especially in the race to the White House in 2020. Several Democratic candidates, including frontrunners Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Cory Booker, have come out in favor of decriminalization. However, all 2020 candidates who voted for the FOSTA-SESTA, a law that has made it more difficult for sex workers to screen clients online, will have to contend with that aspect of their voting record.