While California has established itself as a leader in the nation when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable residents, there is one particularly vulnerable population whose rights and safety have been largely ignored.
It is in all of our best interest to ensure that every victim or witness feels safe and comfortable enough to report a crime. Unfortunately, there is an entire population within our state that experiences violent crime on a daily basis, but are too afraid to report these crimes because of who they are — sex workers.
Assembly Bill 2243 seeks to provide a safe path for these individuals to report violent crime by prohibiting evidence of a sex worker's, or their client's, criminal liability when they are the victim or witness of that crime. To put it simply, a sex worker who reports a violent crime cannot be charged with prostitution when they come forward.
In 2009, the University of California, San Francisco and St. James Infirmary conducted a study of San Francisco sex workers to determine at what rates sex workers experience crime. The study found that over 60% of sex workers face some form of assault while engaging in sex work — 32% reported a physical assault, while 29% reported a sexual assault.
The hard truth is, sex workers are often targeted repeatedly by violent predators because they know their victims are much less likely to report the crime. Failure to report these violent crimes leads to a decline in our community's public safety, and allows violent criminals to remain on our streets. We should be encouraging every victim of violent crime to come forward to help law enforcement prioritize arresting those who commit more serious crimes.
AB 2243 was inspired by a San Francisco policy that has already seen positive results. The policy prioritizes apprehending those who target and attack sex workers. Earlier this year, a sex worker who was brutally assaulted and stabbed by a client, refused to allow a bystander to call 911. Unable to ignore the woman's injuries, the bystander called an ambulance. Once at the hospital, the sex worker continued to refuse to cooperate with law enforcement officers until they were able to show her a written copy of the city's new policy. After she saw the policy she felt safe enough to speak with the officers, and was able to provide the officers with enough information to arrest the perpetrator who attacked her.
It is important that we provide law enforcement and prosecutors with every tool available to remove violent individuals who prey on some of our most vulnerable and marginalized residents. Many law enforcement officers and prosecutors currently provide immunity to sex workers when they act as cooperating witnesses in an investigation. AB 2243 would essentially implement this policy statewide, and will lead to safer communities for all of us.
To date, AB 2243 has received unanimous bipartisan support and law enforcement and prosecutors have been on board. We can all agree that every victim deserves the opportunity to be heard and should be able to report violent crimes with the same confidence and safeguards as every other Californian —regardless of their line of work.