A bill to prohibit the arrest of a sex worker when they are reporting a crime done to them just passed the Senate. SB 233 by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would also make evidence of possession of a condom inadmissible to prove a violation of specified crimes related to prostitution.
Sen. Wiener said SB 233 is necessary “for the health and safety of sex workers,” who are victims of violent crime at a disproportionately high rate.”
According to Wiener, “It is critically important that sex workers feel safe reporting crimes and carrying condoms. If sex workers believe that reporting crimes and carrying condoms will get them arrested, they will do neither. In an effort to improve the overall safety of sex workers and to reduce violence and crimes within the sex industry, the San Francisco Police Department released a bulletin stating that they, as a department, will not arrest someone for sex work when they come forward as the victim or witness of sexual assault, trafficking, stalking, robbery, assault, kidnapping, threats, blackmail, extortion, burglary, or other violent crimes.
“The criminalization of prostitution results in sex workers largely not trusting law enforcement due to fear that they will be arrested or mistreated. This is particularly true for people of color, street-based sex workers, and transgender women who face the most harassment and arrests. Data shows that sex workers are a vulnerable population that is more likely to experience violence while working. Sex workers are unlikely to report crimes when they fear that they themselves will be treated as criminals. Treating condoms as evidence of sex work exacerbates this unsafe work environment because it discourages sex workers from practicing safer sex.”
As California Globe reported in February, there were huge problems with the bill’s language, as it was written, according to Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee, President of the Association of Assistant District Attorneys: “The question is ‘is this what they really wanted?’ Was this drafting error, or is this another attempt to undermine the criminal justice system as is the case with Assembly Bill 109, and Propositions 47 and 57 – all claimed wholesome criminal justice reforms and intent, but the results were completely different.”
Here is the bill’s current language:
Section 647.3 is added to the Penal Code, to read:
“647.3. (a) A person who is reporting a crime of sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking, robbery, assault, kidnapping, threats, blackmail, extortion, burglary, or another violent crime shall not be arrested for a crime, including a misdemeanor violation of the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act (Division 10 (commencing with Section 11000) of the Health and Safety Code) or a violation of subdivision (a) or (b) of Section 647 or of Section 372 or 653.22.
“(b) Possession of condoms in any amount shall not, in and of itself, be probable cause for arrest for a crime, including a violation of subdivision (a) or (b) of Section 647 or of Section 372 or 653.22.”
The California Public Defenders Association opposed the bill early on prior to amendments because “a person who is wrongfully accused of another crime, such as robbery, by an unscrupulous prostitute who is claiming to be a law abiding person, and is making a false accusation, should be allowed to use possession of a condom as evidence that the accuser is in fact a prostitute, and possession of a condom should be allowed as evidence for that purpose.”
The California District Attorneys Association and California State Sheriffs’ Association opposed SB 233. Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project and Sex Workers Outreach Project – Sacramento were in support.
SB 233 needed 27 votes to pass; it passed 28-10.