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California Is Trying to Make Sex Work Less Dangerous

Strip club dancers, workers, and supporters march in in New Orleans.

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom is on the verge of signing a bill that will offer essential protections to sex workers.

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SB 233, which was introduced by State Senator Scott Wiener, would fight the ways in which the criminalization of various aspects of sex work hurts sex workers themselves. Right now, possession of condoms in certain amounts can be considered evidence of criminal activity. Sex workers can also be charged and prosecuted if they admit to certain criminal activities when they are reporting other crimes (like rape or other forms of sexual assault), as either a victim or a witness. This bill would change both of those things.

“When a sex worker is scared to come forward and report a crime, the sex worker is less safe, and we are all less safe as a community,” Wiener said in a statement. “And, carrying condoms to protect one’s health should never be criminalized.”

I admit, I didn’t know that carrying condoms could be considered evidence of a crime and I can’t think of anything more atrocious than criminalizing safe sex.

Wiener also cited a study stating that 60% of sex workers experience some form of violence while working and, more specifically, 32% of sex workers reported a physical attack while engaging in sex work, and 29% reported being sexually assaulted while engaging in sex work.

Last year, Congress passed the controversial SESTA/FOSTA–Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, a packaged bill that claims to fight online sex trafficking but has already had dangerous consequences for sex workers. The bill makes websites responsible for what users do and say on their platform, and not only do advocacy groups say that that undermines basic internet freedoms, but it’s putting sex workers at risk. Websites like Craigslist and Backdoor offered sex workers a degree of safety. SESTA/FOSTA pushes sex workers off of those sites and back into the shadows, removing those protections while doing nothing to target actual sex traffickers.

Luckily, a few states are dedicated to making sure sex workers aren’t put in unnecessary danger. New York wants to be the first state to fully decriminalize sex work. And California’s governor has said he intends to sign that state’s bill.

“No one is safer when sex workers are afraid to report crimes and acts of violence. Silence only helps the perpetrators of those crimes. This legislation will help ensure serious and violent crimes are reported to law enforcement, and I thank the legislature for sending it to my desk,” said Newsom in an official press release.

(via Refinery29, image: EMILY KASK/AFP/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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