By Tanya Dennis
On July 1, Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Safer Streets for All Act, which aims to protect all people from discriminatory arrest and harassment because of their dress or occupation.
SB 357 repeals the crime of vagrancy with intent to engage in prostitution. The bill is also known as the “Walking While Trans” law.
“The repeal was necessary because the previous law was discriminatory and targeted and profiled black, brown and trans women,” said State Senator Scott Weiner who proposed the law.
Vanessa Russell, CEO of the nonprofit Love Never Fails (LNF), cites a 100% increase in prostitution arrests since the bill was passed six weeks ago.
“I met with Senator Weiner before this bill passed and begged him not to go ahead with it,” Russell said. “This bill ties the hands of law enforcement and activists trying to fight prostitution.”
Russell advocates putting more money into the community and providing opportunities and solutions rather than decriminalizing behaviors that precede transactional sex.
SB 357 is not the “Safe Act” that needs to be implemented, Russell continued. “Until you provide an alternative to sex work, what they’re doing is pure survival.”
Weiner says his bill supports exit strategies, but those currently only exist in Orange County. When Russell pointed out that the rest of California doesn’t have exit strategies for sex workers, Weiner said he wants the bill passed and the exit strategies implemented later. .
Currently, “The Blade,” a stretch of street in cities where prostitution occurs, has looked like a McDonald’s drive-thru since the bill passed, Russell said. The bill encouraged pimps, clients and sex workers to deal openly with law enforcement without fear.
“This bill doesn’t stop these girls from having their eyes gouged out or hot water poured on them for not meeting the quotas,” Russell said. “These sex workers have no rights, no advocacy. It is human trafficking, and those who have been indoctrinated for years and consider themselves independent have few options or choices.
Love Never Fails was founded 11 years ago after Russell’s 15-year-old student was sexually assaulted and sold to traffickers in Oakland. While looking for her, Russell spoke to the district attorney and anyone who would listen.
She quickly discovered the lack of legal services, employment opportunities or mental health for the girls who were preyed upon, and learned that it happened to boys too. She began to open homes for them.
LNF now has five hostels containing 39 beds for men and women. Russell works with Social Services and the Department of Violence Prevention and Employment Development Agencies.
“We run computer training, a workforce development program, and teach people in our program how to make money and how to manage money,” Russell said.
Merritt College has hired LNF to teach cybersecurity, and program participants receive college credit. “Our employees are hired into technical positions at companies such as Nordstrom and Delta Airlines. Amazon Web Services, Cisco Systems, and Google provide industry certifications for our students. »
Russell said more needs to be done in workforce development rather than sex work. “It’s not the only way out of poverty. This bill does not create a safe environment from the trauma and violence associated with sex work. »
Russell is reaching out to nonprofits and community members to help him get the bill repealed. “Repeal this law, write it in a way that it protects sex workers and penalizes exploiters and we agree.”