In a win for trafficking victims’ and sex workers’ rights, California’s Governor Newsom signed the Safer Streets for All Act into law on July 1. Effective January 2023, trafficking victims and sex workers in California will no longer face arrest and criminalization just for walking on the street, or for seeking help.
Safer streets for trafficking victims and sex workers
We are grateful to the Freedom United community for helping make this happen! We handed in over 9,000 Freedom United signatures to Governor Newsom and our California community also called the Governor’s office.
The Safer Streets for All Act, SB 357, repeals section 653.22 of California’s penal code, an archaic and harmful law that criminalizes loitering for the intent to engage in prostitution.
In practice, this law targets victims of trafficking and sex workers, and is applied disproportionately against cis and trans women of color, often working in the sex industry. It also prevents survivors of trafficking from moving on with their lives if they are dealing with the significant challenges posed by acquiring a criminal record.
Senator Scott Wiener who sponsored the bill said:
“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,” Wiener said in the statement. “This criminal provision is inherently discriminatory and targets people not for any action but simply based on how they look.”
Helping survivors move on
The Safer Streets for All Act will now give trafficking survivors the power to clear their names. This is a significant win and makes California a leader in supporting trafficking victims and survivors.
Freedom United campaign partner CAST, a Los Angeles-based anti-trafficking organization, told CNN that “Arresting sex workers or persons perceived to be sex workers creates environments where people, including survivors, will be arrested and creates barriers to accessing safe housing, legal employment, and overall quality of life.”
But there is still more work to be done. Within California, the United States, and globally, non-punitive responses to sex work are critical for victims of trafficking to be empowered to seek support, secure in the knowledge that they will not be criminalized and punished for their experiences.