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California Could Overturn Loitering for Sex Work Law

The California Assembly Appropriations Committee decided Thursday the bill will go to the assembly floor for a full vote

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California's current anti-loitering code has been on the books since 1995. It was meant to crack down on people engaging in sex work, but the author of the bill that would overturn it, State Senator Scott Wiener, says it has actually just led to discrimination in the transgender community.

Wiener says that many people have started calling the anti-loitering law, the "walking while trans" law. He says it disproportionately targets trans women, especially Black and Brown trans women.

"Randomly mass arresting a bunch of trans women and Black women for standing on the sidewalk, rounding everyone up and arresting them, that's not how we combat human trafficking, that's a way to engage in abusive law enforcement and undermining trust in law enforcement," Wiener said.

Earlier this year, New York state repealed a similar anti-loitering law.

But some survivors of sex trafficking in California worry that repealing this law could lead to the decriminalization of prostitution altogether.

"We don't want to see the demand go up, when you increase the demand, you need more supply so trafficking is going to go up. We want to fight trafficking, we don't want to encourage it," said Marjorie Saylor, a survivor of sex trafficking.

Senator Wiener says that while he is a proponent of decriminalizing prostitution, this specific bill has nothing to do with that.

"Well we're all committed to eradicating human trafficking, which is just a horrific aspect of our society and we have to crack down on trafficking. This law is not a good tool to crack down on human trafficking," he said.

Survivors of trafficking also worry that repealing the law would take away a mechanism from law enforcement that allows them to intervene with sex workers and refer them to diversionary programs that educate them about human trafficking.

"Law enforcement cannot do anything to intervene because there is no crime committed anymore, it is no longer a crime, they need a reason to go in," Saylor said.

The California Assembly Appropriations Committee decided Thursday the bill will go to the assembly floor for a full vote. If it passes and the Governor signs it, it would go into effect on January 1, 2022.

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