New legislation in San Francisco to protect sex workers when reporting serious crime

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NSWP

A Senator in San Francisco, California, has announced new legislation to protect sex workers from arrest when they report a serious or violent crime.  

In February, Senator Scott Wiener announced new plans to introduce laws to prevent sex workers being arrested for doing sex work when they report serious and violent crime, or come forward as a witness to violent crime. These crimes could include sexual assault, trafficking, stalking, robbery, assault and blackmail. A statement on the Senator's website said: “We’re all worse off when crime victims do not feel safe coming forward, for fear of arrest. “This legislation is about protecting victims and increasing public safety. Too many sex workers are victimized, and the last thing we need is for sex workers to be further victimized by being arrested when they report a crime.”

"Predators view sex workers as easy targets because the illegality of their work makes the police a natural threat; abusers know most sex workers will never go to the police, and they take advantage of that,” said Pike Long, MPH, Deputy Director of St. James Infirmary.

Michael Connolly, Deputy Chief at the San Francisco Police Department, said: “For law enforcement, it’s a smart move to allow witnesses and victims of violent and serious crimes to testify without fear of prosecution, especially since sex workers are deeply woven into the community and provide valuable help to the police”.

A separate Senate Bill (233) proposes legislation prohibiting San Francisco law enforcement from relying on possession of condoms as probable cause that an individual is engaging in sex work. The use of condoms as evidence for prosecution under sex work laws disincentivises sex workers from carrying condoms. The Senator’s website states: “Treating condoms as evidence of sex work exacerbates an already unsafe work environment because it discourages sex workers from practicing safer sex… It is in the interest of public health to support the use of condoms and not criminalize individuals who carry them.”

The practice of not using condoms as evidence was adopted by the San Francisco District Attorney’s office in 2012, with this Bill formalising prohibition of the practice. The Bill was introduced on 7th February, supported by St. James Infirmary, US Prostitutes Collective, Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education, and Research Project, and the Sex Worker Outreach Project, and will have a hearing in the next few months. Senator Wiener’s website says that “further amendments will be made to strengthen protections and clarify that the possession of condoms may not be used as evidence to prosecute someone for sex work”. You can access the full text of the legislation here.