California created the nation’s first victim compensation program in 1965, and formal rules barring payments to those involved in criminal activity have been in place since 1999. Such rules also bar reimbursement for those injured as a result of their involvement with illegal drugs, gang activities or consensual fights.
The program gets its money from fines and restitution paid by criminals, along with federal matching funds. It reimburses victims of violent crimes for expenses including medical care, counseling, lost income and increasing home security.
“Whether someone is engaged in prostitution shouldn’t have anything to do with whether they’ve been beaten or raped,” said Kimberly Horiuchi, an ACLU attorney. “Anytime we walk down the road that ‘the victim deserved it,’ it sends the wrong message.”
Though victims can be reimbursed for up to $62,000 in expenses, the average compensation is just under $2,000. Last year the board denied 28 claims because the victims were deemed to have been involved in prostitution-related activities.
This year the board amended its regulations to comply with a new state law that allows reimbursement for human trafficking victims regardless of their activities.
“Whether there was prostitution or not, if they were deemed to be involved in trafficking then they can qualify for our program,” Myers said.
Doogan said it is common for sex workers to face threats or assaults from pimps or customers. Yet, they are often reluctant to report crimes because they themselves are involved in an illegal activity.
“I have been in a lot of situations where I needed to call for help and police protection,” said Doogan. Yet, “I have to think about risking my economic circumstances in order to report crimes when I’ve been a victim. Those are really tough calls that people who are in the sex industry have to weigh every day.”
None of the three board members would comment in advance of Thursday’s meeting. They are Marybel Batjer, secretary of the California Government Operations Agency and the board’s chairwoman; state Controller John Chiang; and San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos.