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Under the current system, those harmed in violent crimes can be paid for medical costs and related expenses, but prostitutes are excluded because their activities are illegal. Marybel Batjer, chairwoman of the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, called the rule "repugnant," adding in a later interview that, "Rape is rape, period. The three-member board voted unanimously to end California's status as the only state with such a prohibition, though it will take several months to formally repeal the regulation.
The change does not affect the illegality of prostitution. The board acted after hearing what Batjer and fellow board member Michael Ramos called passionate and compelling testimony from several sex workers who said they have been assaulted. Carol Leigh, a representative of the Bay Area Sex Workers Advocacy Network, said she was raped by two men who entered the massage parlor where she worked. The men "took a knife to my throat and demanded sex and money," she told the board.
The rapists know, and they see us as targets. Ramos, the district attorney in San Bernardino County, said law enforcement generally has been trying to change perceptions and practices involving sexual assault victims, and in particular those victimized by human trafficking. It's a national issue," Ramos said in an interview after the board's vote.
The program gets its money from fines and restitution paid by criminals, along with federal matching funds. It reimburses victims of violent crimes for expenses including medical care, counseling, lost income and increasing home security. Last year, the board denied 28 claims because the victims were deemed to have been involved in prostitution-related activities. Jon Myers, the board's deputy executive officer, said the current rule was enacted in during an era when the state was generally getting tough on crime.
The American Civil Liberties Union and organizations representing sex trade workers asked for the regulation change. Kristen DiAngelo, who identified herself as a sex worker, testified that she was raped, beaten, repeatedly choked, robbed and held captive overnight in downtown Sacramento in It makes us inhuman, non-helpable. You allow predators to hone their skills. Changing the rule had the support of district attorneys in Alameda, Santa Clara and Sutter counties, along with the victim-witness program director for Santa Barbara County's district attorney's office.