Thursday, March 20, 2014

California Offers Financial Aid to Rape Victims Previously Denied Due to Sex Work

By Sam Levin
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 at 3:33 PM

Last year, the California Victim Compensation Program made headlines when it scrapped a regulation that barred the state from helping victims of violence who were involved in prostitution. This discrimination against sex workers had sparked intense criticisms of the state program, which provides financial aid to victims of violent crimes (and was the subject of a recent Express series).

Today, three months after the program eliminated the controversial regulation, the state announced that it has reversed more than a dozen of its past denials — meaning a group of victims who were previously rejected will now get the financial support they had originally requested.

The news sheds light on the tangible impacts of the state's policies discriminating against certain victims. In this case, fourteen rape victims who the state had previously refused to help simply due to their alleged involvement in prostitution at the time of their attacks, will now gain access to aid. The Victim Compensation Program can help victims of violence with a range of expenses, including mental health services, relocation, crime scene cleanup, and medical bills. While civil rights groups have celebrated this new access for sex workers, many have lamented the ongoing discrimination against other groups, notably people on felony parole and probation and those who refuse to cooperate with police. (This was the subject of Part One in our recent Unfair Punishment series).

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  • Erotic Service Providers Union

The announcement this afternoon came after a closed session review of victim compensation cases. The state said it will continue to review applications and bring more forward at future board meetings.

In a report last year on the now-defunct regulation barring access for sex workers, program officials noted that it had denied 28 applicants in fiscal year 2011-12 based on involvement in prostitution, and 23 in fiscal year 2010-11. At hearings on the regulation, sex workers spoke out about the hardships of being victimized and then subsequently being denied basic aid from the state.

Here is the full statement from Marybel Batjer, chair of the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, on today's reversals:

In December, the Board eliminated California Code of Regulations Rule 649.56, Involvement in the Qualifying Crime of Prostitution, to allow victims of sexual assault who were engaged in an act of prostitution at the time of the attack to potentially be eligible for state assistance.

The Board then asked staff to review previous applications for reconsideration under the new rule.

As a result, the Board today reconsidered and approved 14 cases that were earlier denied because of the victim’s involvement in prostitution.

While the applications discussed in today’s closed session are, and will remain, confidential, I can note that the victims in these 14 cases were victims of rape. Those 14 are now approved. Staff continues to review applications and will bring more cases forward at future board meetings.

For more on Victim Compensation, check our Part One and Part Two of our "Unfair Punishment" series.

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