Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 357, the Safer Streets for All Act, passed the Senate Public Safety Committee by a vote of 4-1. SB 357 repeals provisions of California law that criminalize loitering for the intent to engage in sex work. These provisions — arrests for which are based on an officer’s subjective perception of whether a person is “acting like” they intend to engage in sex work — result in the disproportionate criminalization of trans, Black and Brown women, and perpetuates violence toward sex workers. SB 357 does not decriminalize soliciting or engaging in sex work. Rather, it simply eliminates an anti-loitering offense that leads to harmful treatment of people for simply “appearing” to be a sex worker.
Criminalizing sex work does not make sex workers or our communities safer. Most criminal penalties for sex workers, loitering laws included, do nothing to stop sex crimes against sex workers and human trafficking. People engaged in sex work deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
In February, a similar piece of legislation to repeal this type of loitering ban became law in New York. SB 357 is part of the movement to end discrimination against and violence toward sex workers, especially the most targeted communities — trans, Black, and Brown people. SB 357 is cosponsored by Positive Women’s Network – USA, St. James Infirmary, SWOP LA, TransLatin@ Coalition, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Equality California and the ACLU of California.
Under current law, it is a crime to loiter in a public place with the “intent” to commit a sex work-related offense. But this law can be broadly interpreted, and thus allows for discriminatory application against the LGBTQ community and people of color. Law enforcement can use a non-exhaustive list of circumstances to subjectively determine if someone “intends” to engage in sex work, including factors such as speaking with other pedestrians, being in an area where sex work has occurred before, wearing revealing clothing, or moving in a certain way. Because current law regarding loitering is highly subjective and vague, law enforcement officers disproportionately profile and target Black and Brown transgender women by stopping and arresting people for discriminatory and inappropriate reasons. This is how Black and Brown transgender women get arrested and cited for simply walking on the street. It also gives law enforcement the ability to more easily target and arrest sex workers.
People within the LGBTQ, Black, and Brown communities report high rates of police misconduct throughout the United States and are disproportionately affected by police violence. Transgender people who have done street-based sex work are more than twice as likely to report physical assault by police officers and four times as likely to report sexual assault by police. A Black person is 3.5 times more likely to be shot by police than a white person. These statistics are a daily reality that transgender, Black and Brown people face and lead to mistrust of law enforcement.
SB 357 will repeal a discriminatory law that makes it a crime to loiter with the intent to engage in sex work, given that it fails to prevent street-based sex work and disproportionally results in the criminalization of transgender people and communities of color.
“Sex workers are workers like anyone else, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” said Senator Wiener. “Our criminal justice system criminalizes people – particularly Black, Brown and LGTBQ people – for simply existing and going about their lives. Laws like this one do nothing to make people safer, or stop sex trafficking. Instead, they criminalize members of our community who are simply going about their lives. We need to support sex workers instead of criminalizing them.”
“This is just one step towards ending the criminalization of the color of a person’s skin, their gender or their livelihood,” said Celestina Pearl of St. James Infirmary. “We all deserve to exist in public peacefully without fear of arrest.”
Fatima Shabazz of Fatima Speaks, and co-lead the Policy Committee of the DecrimSexWorkCA Coalition added, “This is the first step in repealing a Jim Crow law that criminalizes Black and trans people in public spaces.”
“For far too long, California law has been used to arbitrarily target, harass and arrest transgender and gender-nonconforming people simply for existing in public spaces,” said Tami A. Martin, Equality California Legislative Director. “Let’s be clear: this law doesn’t make our communities safer — it contributes to distrust between LGBTQ+ people of color and law enforcement. By listening to and following the lead of transgender people of color — who are most often targets of archaic and discriminatory loitering laws — California has the opportunity to boldly stand on the side of justice and improve public safety. All LGBTQ+ people deserve to exist without fear of harassment and violence, which is why we are proud to cosponsor SB 357.”
Equality California is the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization. We bring the voices of LGBTQ+ people and allies to institutions of power in California and across the United States, striving to create a world that is healthy, just, and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people. We advance civil rights and social justice by inspiring, advocating and mobilizing through an inclusive movement that works tirelessly on behalf of those we serve. www.eqca.org