Too often sex workers are afraid to report violence or rape to authorities while working due to the threat of arrest for prostitution (and not to mention police officers who might abuse their power.) But new policies enacted in San Francisco have been put in place to help change that.
The new guidelines, finalized in December and announced January 11, state that sex workers reporting assault, rape, stalking, threats, robbery, or extortion can then not be arrested for prostitution or petty drug crimes, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Police Chief Bill Scott wrote in a department bulletin:
This bulletin institutionalizes the Department’s existing prioritization of violent crimes and aims to ensure equal access to safety for persons engaged in sex work and other forms of sex trade including trafficked persons. The Department seeks to promote the safety, dignity, and wellbeing of all San Franciscans, including sex workers; and to reduce violence, trafficking of persons, and abuse, including labor violations, within the sex industry.
The bulletin also states that the police department will work with the District Attorney’s Office to create a training program on sex work and crimes against sex workers. Between the Oakland police department’s sexual misconduct towards a teenaged sex worker and what’s currently happening in Alaska, where cops say they need to have sexual contact with sex workers in order to arrest them, it’s difficult to believe the guidelines will actually be enforced, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
“If we fail to prioritize this population’s health and safety they will not come forward and work with law enforcement as witnesses and victims of violence,” District Attorney George Gascón told the newspaper in a statement. “Ultimately, unreported crimes and criminals pose a threat to everyone’s public safety.”