SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) — Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 357 into law on Friday, the Safer Streets for All Act, which repeals a provision of state law criminalizing “loitering with the intent to engage prostitution.”
The legislation was put forth by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).
Opponents of the former law claim that it allowed for arrests of suspects based on an officer’s subjective perception of whether a person is “acting like” or “looks like” they intend to engage in sex work.
This has resulted in the disproportionate criminalization of trans, Black and Brown women, and perpetuates violence towards sex workers, a spokesperson for Wiener’s office said.
“Today, as trans people are being criminalized across the country, Governor Gavin Newsom has once again shown that California stands with the LGBTQ community and communities of color,” said Senator Wiener. “Everyone, no matter their race, gender or how they make a living, deserves to feel safe in the streets.”
A large coalition of former and current sex workers sponsored the bill, Wiener said. The bill does not decriminalize soliciting or engaging in sex work, his office said. “It simply eliminates a loitering offense that leads to harmful treatment of people for simply ‘appearing’ to be a sex worker.”
Wiener said that the crime had been so subjective that it allowed police officers to arrest people simply on how they were dressed, whether they are wearing high heels and certain kinds of make-up, how they are wearing their hair, and the like. Black and Brown transgender women have been cited “simply for walking down the street,” the senator said.
Senator Wiener further stated that criminalizing sex work does not make sex workers or communities safer, adding that most criminal penalties for sex workers do not address human trafficking, for example. “In fact, loitering laws make it harder to identify trafficking victims,” said Wiener’s office. “Trafficking victims are often afraid to come forward in fear of being arrested or incarcerated.”
Transgender persons who have done street-based sex work are more than twice as likely to report physical assault by police officers, Wiener said, and four times as likely to report sexual assault by officers.
“For far too long, California law has been used to profile, harass and arrest transgender and gender-nonconforming people simply for existing in public spaces,” said Tony Huang, executive director for Equity California. “We all deserve to live peacefully and without arrest.”
A similar law was passed in New York last year, according to Wiener’s office.
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