Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation on Tuesday that prohibits condoms as evidence of prostitution when prosecuting someone for sex work crimes.
Sex workers are also protected under the new law from arrest when they report rape and other serious felonies.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat who wrote Senate Bill 233, said the legislation would increase safety for sex workers who are often exposed to violence and use condoms to prevent health risks.
Sex workers experience a high risk of assault, rape, robbery and kidnapping, according to a press statement announcing Newsom’s signature.
The legislation will therefore prevent “sex workers who report violent felonies from being treated as a criminal themselves,” and will specifically alleviate risks that disproportionately affect people of color, workers in the street and transgender women.
And by eliminating condoms as proof of prostitution, sex workers are less likely to contract a sexually transmitted infection or become pregnant, Wiener’s office said.
Prostitution is illegal in California. The California District Attorneys Association and the California State Sheriffs’ Association opposed the bill.
“While we understand and appreciate the struggles of victims of human trafficking and sex workers, SB 233 is bad public policy and sets a bad precedent,” the attorneys association argued. “There are already sufficient measures in place to protect these individuals, and this measure protects the buyers of sex trafficking as well as the workers.”
But advocates for the bill said the new law will carries “lifesaving” effects.
“California is sending a powerful message that we value the health and safety of sex workers,” Wiener said. “When sex workers believe that reporting violent crimes or carrying condoms will get them arrested, they simply won’t take these steps, and we will all be less safe as a result. We need to create every incentive for sex workers to report crimes and to protect themselves and their clients from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”