Senator Wiener’s Legislation to Repeal Discriminatory Loitering Law Targeting Sex Workers Passes Assembly
SACRAMENTO - Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 357, the Safer Streets for All Act, passed the Assembly by a vote of 41-26. It now heads to the Senate for a concurrence vote, and then to the Governor’s desk to be signed. SB 357 repeals a provision of California law criminalizing “loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution.” This criminal provision — arrests for which are based on an officer’s subjective perception of whether a person is “acting like” or “looks like” they intend to engage in sex work — results in the disproportionate criminalization of trans, Black and Brown women, and perpetuates violence toward sex workers.
SB 357 is sponsored by a large coalition made up of former and current sex workers, LGTBQ groups like Equality California and Transgender Gender-variant and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), and civil rights groups like the ACLU. The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST LA) is supporting the legislation.
SB 357 does not decriminalize soliciting or engaging in sex work. Rather, it simply eliminates an loitering offense that leads to harmful treatment of people for simply “appearing” to be a sex worker.
This crime is so subjective and inherently profiling that it allows a police officer to arrest someone purely based on how they are dressed, whether they’re wearing high heels and certain kinds of make-up, how they’re wearing their hair, and the like. This criminal provision is inherently discriminatory and targets people not for any action but simply based on how they look. People who engage in sex work deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Criminalizing sex work does not make sex workers or communities safer. Most criminal penalties for sex workers, loitering laws included, do nothing to stop sex crimes against sex workers and human trafficking. In fact, loitering laws make it harder to identify trafficking victims; trafficking victims are often afraid to come forward in fear of being arrested or incarcerated.
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 co-sponsored by Positive Women’s Network – USA, St. James Infirmary, SWOP LA, Trans Latin@ Coalition, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Equality California and ACLU California Action.
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 in 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 disproportionately results in the criminalization of transgender people and communities of color.
“Arresting people because they ‘look like’ sex workers is discriminatory and wrong, and it endangers sex workers and trans people of color,” said Senator Wiener. “Anti-LGTBQ and racist loitering laws need to go. Sex workers, LGBTQ people, and people of color deserve to be safe on our streets. Today is an important victory for this movement. I am grateful to our coalition – made up of people with lived experience of discrimination from law enforcement because of loitering laws – for their hard work and persistence on this issue.”
The DecrimSexWorkCA coalition released the following statement:
“For too long, our communities have been harmed by tough-on-crime laws which are used to target and harass our community members, threatening our ability to exist safely in public spaces. By passing SB 357, the Legislature recognizes the decades of harm that California’s loitering law has had on tens of thousands of people, especially Black and brown women, trans women of color and sex workers, giving us a path to clear our records. By ending one form of criminalization, the state takes a monumental step forward in protecting our safety and our livelihoods.”