Sex workers in San Francisco who come forward to report assault cannot be penalized for prostitution or petty drug crimes under new guidelines announced by city officials.
In an announcement titled “Prioritizing Safety for Sex Workers,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said the new policy, which was announced on Thursday, was intended “to create an environment where individuals who are victims or witnesses of violent crime are able to come forth to report violence.”
Sex workers who come forward as “victims or witnesses of sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking, robbery, assault, kidnapping, threats, blackmail, extortion, burglary or other violent crime” will not be prosecuted for their involvement in sex work or for misdemeanor drug offenses, Gascón said.
“So long as the person making the report does so truthfully, any statements they make shall not be used against them in the current investigation or in any future criminal action against them,” the district attorney said.
Gascón’s announcement also noted that the district attorney’s office won’t report the immigration status of victims or witnesses of violent crimes to any government agency.
San Francisco Police Chief William Scott made a similar announcement in a department bulletin dated Dec. 19, 2017. The bulletin “institutionalizes” existing practices, Scott said, which aim to “create a climate” where sex workers feel safe to report abuse.
“Sex workers are vulnerable to violence and face barriers in reporting violent crimes to law enforcement in San Francisco,” Scott wrote. “The criminalization of sex work is one of the primary barriers to reporting violence to law enforcement. Sex workers report fear of arrest as a barrier to reporting violent crimes.”
The new policy from the city’s district attorney, described as the first of its kind in the country, met applause from sex worker advocates.
Briq House, communications director for Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA, called San Francisco’s new guidelines “a wonderful step in the right direction.”
“I hope we see cities all over the United States rethinking their approach to violence against sex workers,” House said.
She added that the policy might also serve to educate law enforcement on the difference between consensual and non-consensual sex work and particularly the vulnerability of victims of sex trafficking.
But House noted that police officers can also be among the perpetrators of abuse toward sex workers, and said she hoped the new policy might also “deter predators in law enforcement.”
Scott also alluded to that in his bulletin, referencing recent news coverage of police officers coercing sex workers into engaging in intimate acts. As an additional measure for ensuring the safety of those engaged in sex work, Scott said that any officer found to be using their position of power to retaliate against or coerce sex acts from sex workers would be “subject to disciplinary and/or criminal action.”
In their announcements, Gascón and Scott said the district attorney’s office, the San Francisco Police Department and Sheriff’s Department would work together to develop a training program on crimes against sex workers to ensure that city officials properly implement the new policy.