Today, Governor Newsom signed Senator Scott Weiner’s Senate Bill 357, the Safer Streets for All Act, which will help to protect all people from discriminatory arrests and harassment based on how they dress or their profession. SB 357 repeals California Penal Code Section 653.22, a law that criminalizes loitering for the intent to engage in sex work. This new act will take effect on January 1, 2023. SB 357 is the first legislative initiative of the DecrimSexWork CA Coalition – a coalition of current and former sex workers, organizers, and allies.
“SB 357 repeals a Jim Crow law that criminalized Black and trans people in public spaces,” said Fatima Shabazz of the DecrimSexWorkCA Coalition.
Penal Code Section 653.22 permitted unjust profiling, harassment and arrests of transgender women and cisgender women of color by law enforcement. The subjective nature of this criminal provision targeted people based on how they looked or where they were standing. The fear of arrest increased danger for all sex workers, including those trafficked in commercial sex. Convictions under this law created stigma, erected barriers to employment, and limited access to safe housing because of a criminal record relating to sex work.
SB 357 will eliminate law enforcement’s ability to harass and arrest trans women and women of color based on a belief or assumption that the person engages in sex work. Additionally, SB 357 will enable persons who have previously been convicted of loitering with the intent to commit prostitution to clear their records.
“We hope that the Safer Streets for All Act will help people understand how policing does not create public safety, and will immediately deprive police of one tool they use to harass and oppress folks based on race and gender,” said Ashley Madness of SWOP LA and the DecrimSexWorkCA Coalition.
Because Section 653.22 was subjective and vague, Black and Brown women of color and transgender women have been stopped and arrested at a disproportionately high rate. A study by UCLA Law students found that more than 1 in 4 sex work-related arrests in Los Angeles between 2017 and 2019 were for Section 653.22 charges, and 56.1% of those charges were against Black adults, who only make up 8.9% of the city’s population. Women accounted for 67.1% of these charges, although this percentage is likely under-inclusive due to the possible recording of trans women as males.
“Ahora nosotros nos sentimos libre de caminar en la calle sin miedo que la policia nos vaya a arrestar,” (Now we can walk free on the streets without fear of the police arresting us,”) said Lisseth Sanchez of St. James Infirmary and the DecrimSexWorkCA Coalition.
SB 357 will create safer streets for all by reducing discriminatory arrests and prioritizing the health and safety of Black, Brown, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. Penal Code Section 653.22 was just one law that contributes to a lack of safety and fear of abuse and harassment experienced by trans women and women of color across the state. Repealing Section 653.22 is a significant step in the right direction.
“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 Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. “We all deserve to live in public peacefully without fear of arrest. Thanks to Governor Newsom and Senator Wiener’s leadership, California boldly stands on the side of justice today. This law will make our communities safer for all Californians. We are immensely proud to be in this fight as part of a coalition that has been trans led since the beginning.”
“Today, California is one step closer to acknowledging sex workers as deserving full dignity and respect,” said Arneta Rogers of the ACLU of Northern California and a member of the DecrimSexWorkCA Coalition.
About the DecrimSexWork CA Coalition
DecrimSexWorkCA is a coalition of current and former sex workers, organizers, and allies who use political education, advocacy, and community outreach to advance the human rights, safety, and wellbeing of people in the sex trade. The Coalition uses an anti-criminalization framework to move towards a more equitable and just society in connection with other movements for racial and gender justice.
The Safer Streets for All Act co-sponsoring organizations include: ACLU CalAction, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Equality California, Positive Women’s Network – USA, St. James Infirmary, SWOPLA, and Trans Latin@ Coalition.