The Safer Streets for All Act will stop survivors of trafficking and sex workers from facing a criminal record simply for walking on the street. It will repeal Section 653.22 of California’s penal code — a harmful law that criminalizes loitering for the intent to engage in prostitution. In practice it does little more than harm survivors of trafficking and is applied disproportionately against cis and trans women of color, often working in the sex industry.
But there is a path to stopping this harm: supporting SB 357, the Safer Streets for All Act by State Senator Scott Wiener. The bill has already passed out of the State Senate and Assembly, meaning the final step is for California Governor Newsom to sign it into law.
Rather than targeting traffickers, Section 653.22 has the effect of making their crime easier to commit. As our partner CAST emphasizes, “A core tenet of human trafficking is that traffickers utilize force, fraud, and coercion to control their victims. We replicate these circumstances when we threaten survivors with prosecution under this law [which] […] shows survivors that they cannot trust our systems, that they are not there to protect them.”1
The threat of amassing a criminal record poses extreme challenges for trafficking survivors in rebuilding their lives. Trafficking survivors report being unable to secure employment, obtain stable immigration status, or access housing, which leads to poverty and homelessness, both key drivers of vulnerability to trafficking.2 Crucially, the Safer Streets for All Act addresses this by giving survivors of trafficking and sex workers the power to clear their names.
Imagine walking down the street and simply being arrested for what you look like. Police are currently able to arrest individuals for “speaking with other pedestrians or being in an area where sex work has occurred before […or] wearing revealing clothing”,3 making the arrest dependent on a police officer’s subjective assessment of whether a person is intending to engage in sex work. This has led to disproportionate and discriminatory arrests of transgender, Black, and Brown communities. In Los Angeles, Black adults accounted for 56% of the charges under the loitering law despite only making up 9% of the city’s population. Similarly, in Compton, Black adults accounted for 72% of those charged under Section 653.22 despite only comprising 31% of the population. Cis and trans women comprised 100% of these arrests.4
Signing the Safer Streets for All Act into law can set national precedence. We have already seen New York State repeal a similar 1976 anti-loitering law, commonly referred to as “Walking While Trans.”5 California can follow New York’s lead and set an example for the entire United States in reducing harm to trafficking survivors and sex workers.
Within California, the United States, and globally, non-punitive responses to sex work are critical for survivors of trafficking to be empowered to seek support, secure in the knowledge that they will not be criminalized and punished for surviving trafficking.
Add your name to call on Governor Newsom to sign the Safer Streets for All Act into law today!