Calif. Prostitutes May Gain Victim Compensation

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  • SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California officials are considering whether to change a decades-old anti-crime regulation and allow prostitutes to receive money from a victim compensation fund if they’re raped or beaten.

    Under the current system, those harmed in violent crimes can be paid for medical costs and related expenses, but prostitutes are excluded because their activities are illegal.

    California is the only state in the nation with such a provision, said Jon Myers, deputy executive officer of the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board.

    “We’re kind of all alone on that,” he said. “The idea, back in the late ’90s, was to get tougher on crime.”

    The American Civil Liberties Union and organizations representing sex trade workers want the rules changed.

    The current system feeds the perception that sex workers are “a substandard type of victim,” said Maxine Doogan, who described herself as a working prostitute and an organizer for the Erotic Service Providers Union in San Francisco. “It institutionalizes sexual assaults against our class of worker.”

    Changing the rule has the support of district attorneys in Alameda, Santa Clara and Sutter counties, along with the victim-witness program director for Santa Barbara County’s district attorney’s office. They say sex workers often are coerced into their trade and so should not be denied benefits if they are harmed.

    The conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation says its goal is to “assure that crime does not pay,” but in this case agrees with changing the rules.

    “Prostitution is a crime, but it’s a minor one,” said Kent Scheidegger, the foundation’s legal director. “If someone’s been a victim of a major crime like rape or battery, it shouldn’t disqualify them from restitution.”

    Also, there was no opposition in writing or at public hearings on the proposed rule change from more than 20 law enforcement officials, mental health providers, victims and advocates who commented, Myers said.

    The board will meet Thursday morning to consider the request. Board members could do away with the rule or make changes. It currently applies to any activity related to prostitution, including pimping or soliciting.

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