California Sex Workers and Supporters Win Compensation for Rape

Kristina Dolgin
Law Student Co-Vice-President

Sex worker groups and supporters are applauding the landmark December 12 decision at the California Victims Compensation Board to eliminate Regulation 649.56 “Involvement in the Qualifying Crime of Prostitution.” This statewide campaign garnered support from a broad coalition of groups and organizations including the NLGSF, ACLU of Northern California, Harm Reduction Coalition, Sex Workers Outreach Project, Coalition on Homelessness, and Veterans for Peace, among many others.

The 1990s-era anti-crime Regulation 649.56 denied ‘suspected’ prostitutes from receiving financial compensation for rape and other violent crimes. Created in 1965, California’s Victims Compensation Program was designed to help victims pay for medical expenses, counseling, lost wages, housing, and security. Early in 2013, the board amended the regulation to exempt victims of human trafficking, allowing their eligibility.

Moves to repeal the discriminatory regulation began after a Bay Area woman was denied compensation under 649.56 after being beaten, raped and robbed in her home.

On September 9 sex workers gathered in Sacramento to speak out about the assaults and rapes they had suffered. Many shared stories of dismissive and callous responses from police and other authorities.

Coalition members decried, “This regulation institutionalizes the prejudice that sex workers cannot be raped, that rape is not as serious for sex workers as it is for other women, and that sex workers are undeserving of support. It blames victims for the violence perpetrated against them.” Rachel West, a spokesperson for the US PROStitutes Collective, testified, “it divides women into good and bad victims.”

Though elated for the rare win for sex worker rights, coalition members continue to fight for changes in CalVCP. Next on their trajectory is Regulation 649.4(b), which excludes former prisoners from receiving compensation. This injustice is compounded by the fact that funding for CalVCP is derived from restitution from prisoners. Collection continues after release from prison.

More information on the continuing struggle can be found at USPros.net.