When Kristen DiAngelo was younger and doing sex work, police officers would routinely do big sweeps of areas known to be frequented by sex workers. “Cops would roll up. They’d grab your purse and dump it out. They’d look at your arms for track marks. They’d look through your pockets,” DiAngelo, now executive director of SWOP (Sex Workers Outreach Project) Sacramento, tells Rolling Stone. “They’d just do it. They didn’t ask.” Sometimes, they’d find condoms during these searches — and under California law, that would be evidence enough to arrest someone and charge them with loitering with the intent to commit to prostitution.

When she was on the streets, this happened all the time. DiAngelo says the end result was that many of her peers stopped carrying condoms altogether, thus putting them at increased risk of contracting STIs. When she started working for SWOP, a sex worker outreach organization, she and other members would pass out cards telling sex workers to know their rights, informing them that searches yielding condoms as evidence were illegal and they did not have to consent to them. “They’d look at me with wide eyes and say, ‘That’s easy for you to say. I do what [the cops] want me to do. They’re God,’” says DiAngelo.

Thanks to a landmark bill in California, however, that is set to change. On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB233, a Senate bill sponsored by state senator Scott Wiener and pushed forward in large part by SWOP and other sex-worker rights organizations. The bill is significant for including two key components: it contains a provision providing immunity for sex workers who report being the victims of abuse or domestic violence to the police, and it also renders condoms inadmissible as evidence of the intent to do sex work.

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California just passed a landmark law protecting Sex Workers’ rights by EJ Dickson

July 31st, 2019