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Sex Workers Say California Bill Gives Police Too Much Power

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) --  Sex workers are fighting to do away with parts of a California bill that they say would give law enforcement officers discretion over whether sex workers are either arrested or referred to social services, and could put sex workers at risk of police exploitation.

Rachel West with US PROStitutes Collective said, "The Oakland police scandal where officers abused their power and had sex with a young sex worker has exposed just how problematic this is."

The bill, SB 1110, introduced by State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) in February would establish Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, pilot programs in California and establish requirements for referral of people to social services who may be arrested for, or who have a history of, low-level drug offenses or prostitution.

Hancock said the bill would allow police officers to direct people with low-level offenses to treatment programs in lieu of arrest.

But sex workers and their allies, who aim to one day have prostitution decriminalized altogether, are rejecting the bill's language and say they want legislators to remove any mention of sex workers from the bill.

"It treats sex work not as a job but as a disease and sex workers not as workers but as offenders in need of treatment and rehabilitation," West said.

The Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA, which is among the groups calling for the removal of prostitution clauses from the bill, argues that the bill invites police officers to take on the role of social worker.

SWOP-USA said this week that they have been monitoring political developments in California and are discouraged by not only the failure of SB 1286, the Enhance Community Oversight on Police Misconduct and Serious Uses of Force bill, which would have opened police misconduct records to the public, but by "news of Oakland police sexual extortion involving a minor."

SWOP-USA said they are concerned that the proposed bill could harm sex workers if transparent police misconduct mechanisms are not in place, and "given recurring police sexual misconduct and coercion in California jurisdictions exploring LEAD and police department minimization of recent misconduct involving a minor involved in the sex trade."

The bill would instruct a LEAD officer to bring the a member of the public to a social services case manager instead of jail, but amid allegations that a sex worker who goes by the name Celeste Guap had sexual relations with 31 officers around the Bay Area in exchange for their protection, sex workers aren't convinced that they'll be safe with law enforcement officials.

SWOP-USA insists that the pre-booking diversion program put in place strong mechanisms for filing complaints as well as "explicit policies against police sexual violence and extortion."

Groups fighting to remove prostitution from the bill include Youth Justice Coalition, Black Trans Lives Matter, and Erotic Services Providers Union, among others.

Sex workers are expected to express their concerns at the bill's hearing before the State Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing on June 28th in Sacramento.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.

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