Sex Worker Know Your Rights Manual (2014)

This manual is a project of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter; many additional individuals and organizations made valuable contributions, including the St. James Infirmary and Just Cause Law Collective.

The National Lawyers Guild is an association dedicated to the need for basic change in the structure of our political and economic system. We seek to unite the lawyers, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers of America in an organization that shall function as an effective political and social force in the service of the people, to the end that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property interests. The Sex Worker Know Your Rights Manuals are legal materials designed for sex worker community members and their advocates to provide a set of basic, current, and locally-specific legal information about how certain areas of substantive law uniquely affect sex workers.

This effort was inspired by Thomas Steel, tireless advocate for the San Francisco Bay Area LGBT community and longtime friend and supporter of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. His leadership and vision enabled the work which the Transgender Know Your Rights Manuals seek to further.

The Sex Worker Know Your Rights Manual was made possible by the Thomas Steel Fund.

INTRODUCTION

This information was compiled by law students of the National Lawyers Guild, using statutory law, case law, and the work of numerous legal and non-legal organizations across the country, notably, the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area chapter. While the information here is up-to-date through June 2014, it is possible that substantive changes have been made to the laws since it was last updated. Please keep this in mind while using this resource. Source and reference information will be provided for most of the content in this manual to help you verify that the information is still good before relying on it.

This manual was created for use by sex worker community members and allies, by service providers who work with the sex worker community, and by attorneys and legal workers who provide advocacy and legal services to members of the sex worker community. For purposes of this manual, the word “sex worker” is used as an umbrella term for individuals who exchange sexual services for money or gifts, an act that is criminalized in most of the United States. This includes people who work as prostitutes, rent boys, escorts, street-based workers, and sensual massage workers. Occasionally, the text will refer to individuals as “he or she” or “his or her.” This reference does not indicate that a statement applies exclusively to persons who identify as male or female, but instead is used for legibility and accessibility.

The information in this manual does not constitute legal advice; instead, it is meant to serve as a resource to help understand the landscape of law in a particular area, and to help connect readers with the current information needed to verify law or navigate a particular situation. Although we hope that this manual assists service providers and community members in locating information and resources, it is important to note that only licensed attorneys are authorized to give legal advice. If you have a question of law that is outside of the scope of information provided in this manual, you may wish to consult or refer your client to an attorney or, if you are a client, to contact one of the legal support agencies listed in the resource guide in the back. Many of the organizations listed in the resource guide provide referrals to attorneys who are familiar with transgender law and working with the transgender community.

For questions, comments, corrections, and suggestions, please contact kmdolgin@gmail.com.

USING THIS MANUAL

This manual was created to be a first-stop reference for lawyers, service providers, and community members who need legal information about a sex worker-specific issue or question of law. For ease of use, the content has been divided by common problems or needs. Case law, statutes, print and web resources, and other service organizations can be found embedded throughout the manual, referenced in the footnotes, and listed in the directory at the back of this manual.

This resource was created by and for people in the San Francisco Bay Area, and therefore much of the information is specific to California and San Francisco Bay Area resources and law. We hope that this manual will be a helpful resource to readers outside of California as well because it includes information that is nationally relevant. However, it is important that non-California readers pay close attention to what information appears to be specific to California or the Bay Area, and not presume that the local information contained in this manual will transfer to other cities and states. Non-California readers are encouraged to use the national resources listed in the directory at the back to locate up-to-date information about the laws and precedent in their state or city.

It is important to note that, although the researchers who assembled this information did our best to be accurate on points of both black letter law and how the law tends to play out in the real world, there may be inaccuracies and nothing in this manual should be relied on as legal advice. Legal advice can only come from a lawyer. This manual is, however, a good starting place to understand the law and how it affects sex workers and communities in California and the Bay Area specifically.

FINDING THE LAW FOR FREE

Legal documents, such as cases and statutes, are actually public documents. This means that everyone (members of the public) has the right to research and read these documents. The problem is that sometimes these documents can be hard to find or access.

If a case is cited in this document and a person wants to find and read the actual case, we can find it by following a series of steps. The first step is to avoid getting flustered by the complicated series of numbers, letters, and punctuation that follows the name of the case. The next step is to simply go to http://scholar.google.com/, click the “Legal opinions and journals” button and type in the volume number, the journal name, and the page number from the case citation. For example, to find the case of State v. Jordan, 742 N.W.2d 149 (Minn. 2007). We would ignore the name of the case (State v. Jordan), and copy the volume number (742), then journal name (N.W.2d), followed by the page number (149). Those three things are all that’s needed to find the case on Google scholar. Sometimes the journal name will be different, but as long as the right information is copied into the search bar, Google Scholar should be able to pull it up.

Again, the information in this manual is not legal advice. We hope that sex workers and their allies will use this manual as a first step for beginning to understand applicable law, and identify when legal help is needed.

Many sex workers report barriers to accessing legal services for a number of reasons. The cost of hiring a lawyer is a major issue for many, along with fears that lawyers will not be respectful of sex worker clients, will not know enough about how laws specifically affect sex workers, and that the court system is prejudiced against sex workers. While all of these fears are justified, attorneys, activists, and advocates across the country are making huge strides in increasing legal services and resources for sex workers and transgender people. Many states have lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) bar associations that can be helpful in locating legal information or finding lawyers who are knowledgeable about transgender law and sensitive to the specific concerns of transgender clients. Many of the organizations listed in the resource section at the end of this manual are happy to assist individuals in finding legal services. Although legal services often seem too expensive, there are a lot of organizations and individual attorneys committed to making justice more accessible. You may be eligible for pro bono (free of charge) representation or fee structures that work for you (such as contingency fees, where you only pay if you win your case). Additionally, many attorneys are happy to meet with potential clients for free to assess your case. This can be a good way to learn more about your options and whether it's worth it to you to pursue legal action.

A NOTE TO LEGAL PROFESSIONALS

This manual was designed to be a resource to clients, but it is our hope that service providers and legal professionals will also find it useful. Attorneys may find this manual to be a helpful starting point for legal research and a useful tool for locating additional resources. All manuals in this series contain footnotes to case law, law review articles, and statutes that we hope will assist you. As with any compilation of research, attorneys are urged to check all cited law before relying on it to make sure there haven't been substantive changes and that it will apply to your client's particular case. Many of the organizations listed in the resource section of this document provide assistance to attorneys representing clients, and can be excellent sources for information and insight. When advocating for transgender clients, attorneys can advocate for the use of appropriate name and pronoun for their client in court and other proceedings.

BASIC RIGHTS

Both citizens and non-citizens alike have rights under the United States Constitution. The Fifth Amendment gives every person the right to remain silent – that is, to not answer questions asked by a police officer or government agent. The Fourth Amendment restricts the government’s power to enter and search a person's home or workplace, although there are many exceptions and new laws have expanded the government’s power to conduct surveillance, as well as the authority for the police to search a person or belongings. The First Amendment protects a person's right to speak freely and to advocate for social change. These Constitutional rights are absolute, and cannot be suspended – even during wartime.1


  1. Know Your Rights!: What to Do if Questioned by Police, FBI, Customs Agents or Immigration Officers, August 2004 California: National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, http://www.nlgsf.org/resources/, Last visited May 22, 2014.