By TOM JOYCE
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that could lead to fewer prostitution arrests.
The governor signed Senate Bill 357 into law. The bill decriminalizes “loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution. It was sponsored by Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco.
“This criminal provision – arrests for which are based on an officer’s subjective perception of whether a person is ‘acting like’ or ‘looks like’ they intend to engage in sex work – results in the disproportionate criminalization of trans, Black and Brown women, and perpetuates violence toward sex workers,” the press release from the governor’s office said.
The legislation received support from various groups, including “current sex workers,” Equality California, and Transgender Gender-variant and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), the American Civil Liberties Union, and The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST LA).
“Today, as trans people are being criminalized across the country, Governor Gavin Newsom has once again shown that California stands with the LGBTQ community and communities of color,” Sen. Wiener said in a press release. “Everyone – no matter their race, gender or how they make a living – deserves to feel safe on our streets.”
Gov. Newsom included a special message in signing the bill, stressing that it does not decriminalize soliciting or “engaging in sex work.”
“To be clear, this bill does not legalize prostitution,” he said. “It simply revokes provisions of the law that have led to disproportionate harassment of women and transgendered adults. While I agree with the author’s intent and I am signing this legislation, we must be cautious about its implementation. My Administration will monitor crime and prosecution trends for any possible unintended consequences and will act to mitigate any such impacts.”
Opponents of the measure warned that it would lead to increased human trafficking, expose children to the sex work industry, and ultimately close businesses.
“Legalizing street prostitution is not the answer to protecting a sex worker. Instead, street sex leads to crime, violence, and a deterioration of our communities. It will drive businesses away. It will set a terrible example for our children,” Million Kids CEO and President Opal Singleton Hendershot said in August 2021.
The governor’s office argues that the law disproportionately resulted in the arrests of racial minorities and people who identify as a part of the LGBT community.
“For far too long, California law has been used to profile, harass and arrest transgender and gender-nonconforming people simply for existing in public spaces,” Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang said in the press release. “We all deserve to live in public peacefully without fear of arrest.”