Wednesday, December 11, 2013

California Sex Worker Groups Seek Access to Compensation for Rape Victims

By Sam Levin
Wed, Dec 11, 2013 at 10:59 AM

In California, victims of rape and other violent crime are entitled to compensation for costs covering medical treatment, mental health services, income loss, and more. For sex workers, however, it's a different story.

Tomorrow morning, sex worker advocacy organizations will gather at the Capitol in Sacramento for a rally in advance of a California State Victims Compensation Board vote on a controversial policy that denies financial compensation to rape victims who are sex workers. The groups are hoping that the board will scrap the rule altogether, so that all victims, regardless of their involvement in sex work, can access the financial support the state provides.

"This is hurting real people who have real communities and families and friends," said Maxine Doogan, an organizer with the Erotic Service Providers Union. "When people are rejected by the state, it's like saying, you are not good enough. You deserve it."

At question is Regulation 649.56, which says the state can deny applications from victims because of their "involvement in the events leading to the qualifying crime." That includes if they were "engaged in activity related to prostitution" or if the "crime occurred as a direct result of the activity related to prostitution." Opponents have argued that it's a clear form of victim-blaming — and a discriminatory policy that carries devastating consequences.

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  • Erotic Service Providers Union

The rule has been in place since 1999, specifying a range of situations in which the state can deny compensation, including actions of "mutual combat," "illegal drug-related activity," and "gang involvement."

"They are always trying to write prostitution laws to discourage prostitution," said Doogan. "It's never going to happen. Grow up and stop discriminating against us."

In May, the California State Victims Compensation Board requested a review of the regulation after amending the rule to ensure victims of human trafficking were eligible for compensation. The portion of the law discriminating against sex workers is now facing opposition from a range of groups, including the Erotic Service Providers Union, the US PROStitutes Collective, the American Civil Liberties Union, and several California district attorneys. As outlined in the item the board will be reviewing tomorrow, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley requested that the rule be amended and possibly eliminated, noting in testimony that "our laws around sexual assault have changed pretty dramatically in the last couple of years. Added Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Ken Ryken: "From a district attorney's perspective, a lot of these young women and men are truly victims of crime; there's no other way to say it. To treat them as other than a victim I think would do a disservice and would not be what we should aspire to, either the Board or as a population as a whole."

Tomorrow, the board could vote to keep Rule 649.56 intact as written, eliminate the regulation entirely, or amend it so that it does not prohibit compensation for assault victims engaged in prostitution at the time of the attack.

Jon Myers, the board's deputy executive officer of legislation and public affairs, declined to comment to the Express prior to the board's decision.

Opponents will hold a press conference at 8:30 a.m. at the Capitol before the board's 10 a.m. meeting tomorrow.

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