A California bill to prohibit arrests for loitering with the intent to take part in prostitution has been sent to Governor Gavin Newsom’s (D) desk after passing the state legislature.
Senate Bill 357 would get rid of the misdemeanor law that doesn’t allow people to loiter in public with the intention to carry out prostitution. Those in favor of the bill say that police use the loitering restrictions to unfairly go after Californians of color, as well as transgender people. They also say the current law results in sex workers operating in dangerous situations as well as supposedly inhibits their ability to get a job or housing because of their criminal history.
Opponents of the measure point out that it will endanger women and children who could be used for sex trafficking purposes.
The bill passed the legislature in September, but it didn’t get sent to Newsom’s desk until Monday. The governor needs to sign it within 12 days or decide to veto it. He could also permit it to go into effect without signing the bill.
In a letter asking Newsom to veto the bill, a group of advocates against human trafficking wrote that the bill “will harm our most vulnerable communities by giving buyers, traffickers and pimps the freedom to troll the community for women and children to victimize without fear of consequence.”
Greg Burt, a spokesman for the California Family Council, and other critics also worry that the measure is part of an overall attempt to decriminalize prostitution.
“This bill seems to be perfect if you want sex trafficking to even increase in California,” he said, per ABC News. “This bill is really going to affect poor neighborhoods — it’s not going to affect neighborhoods where these legislators live.”
Some also view the bill as reducing the ability of the police even further to do their job and arrest people for crimes such as car theft and shoplifting.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement to the state Senate that the part of California’s penal code that the bill would get rid of is utilized in order to “target sex buyers who seek to exploit.”
“While the intent of this legislation is to protect the prosecution of a vulnerable community, the unintended consequences will be to benefit the sex buyers as well,” the department wrote.
Vanessa Russell is the founder and Executive Director of Love Never Fails, a group that works with survivors of trafficking. “Removing the police is not going to reduce harm. It’s going to create more harm because you haven’t [held] the buyers and exploiters accountable, so you are going to increase demand,” Russell said.
Russell has laid out a legislative concept known as Pathways to Safety, which describes itself as a “Survivor-led and community-driven legislative solution to prevent the crime of sex trafficking in California while empowering survivors and communities to heal and thrive.”