If you’re the victim of a violent crime, you can apply for money from the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. The grant can be used to pay for things like treatment and medical equipment.
But up until the board repealed a controversial rule today, prostitutes assaulted on the job were not eligible for that money. The board’s rules denied funding to a crime victim if an assault, rape or other crime was “a direct result of … activity related to prostitution.”
“What (the rule) says is that sex workers are asking for it,” said Rachel West. “That sex workers are asking for rape. That the rape of sex workers is not as serious as the rape of other women, and that sex workers are not deserving of support.”
West is with the United States Prostitutes Collective. She was one of several sex workers and sex worker advocates who urged the board to repeal the prostitution language during a Thursday morning meeting in Sacramento.
The board did just that, though because California’s formal rule-making process takes a long time to run its course, the change won’t be official until next spring. “Frankly, rape is rape,” Chairwoman Marybel Batjer said after the vote. “Period. There is no qualifier on it.”
The prostitution language, which Batjer called “repugnant,” was adopted in 1999. Similar rules passed that year also barred gang members and drug dealers from applying for crime compensation funding. Those exceptions will remain, along with a broader rule disqualifying applicants who were involved in any sort of criminal activity at the time of the crime in question.
According to a board staff report, the prostitution exception barred about 20 applicants a year from receiving funding.
Kristen DiAngelo, who testified before the vote, said the language was part of a broader trend, and that sex workers are often ignored by law enforcement. “The laws don’t apply to us like they do other people,” she said. “Up until today, there was no rape of us. Sex workers can’t be raped. They can’t be mugged. They can’t be robbed. And unfortunately that allows predators to hone their skills on us.”
DiAngelo, a sex worker, told the board she was raped in the early 1980s, but was able to receive funding because the prostitution rule hadn’t been adopted yet.
Four district attorneys supported the shift. So did San Bernardino District Attorney Mike Ramos, who sits on the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. He didn’t quite endorse the idea that the old language blamed a class of victims for rapes and assaults, but said, “I think there was too much responsibility being placed on them with conduct they had no control over. Bottom line is there were crimes being committed against them.”