Questions and answers on California's sex worker victim compensation rules, proposed changes

A state official says California stands alone as the only state in the nation that blocks prostitutes from receiving money from a victim compensation fund if they're raped or beaten.

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.

Several organizations are seeking to change the rule and the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board will consider the matter Thursday.

Q: What is the California Victim Compensation Program?

A: California created the nation's first victim compensation program in 1965. It uses money collected from criminals through fines and restitution orders, supplemented by federal matching funds, to reimburse victims of violent crimes for crime-related expenses including medical care, counseling, lost income, and increasing home security.

Q: How does a victim get reimbursed, and how much can they receive?

A: Victims file a claim with the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. The board's staff searches for corroborating documents such as police reports before the board votes whether to allow the compensation. Victims can be reimbursed for up to $62,000 in expenses, but the average compensation last fiscal year was just under $2,000.

Q: Why are those involved in prostitution prohibited from receiving compensation?

A: In 1999, the board adopted regulations barring payments to those injured during their involvement in activities related to prostitution, illegal drugs, gang activities or consensual fights. The board also has a general prohibition on compensating anyone harmed while they are engaged in a criminal activity.

Q: Who's requesting the change and why?

A: The American Civil Liberties Union, Erotic Service Providers Union and the US PROStitutes Collective argue that the prostitution rule blames women for the violence done to them.

Q: Would the rule treat adults and children differently?

A: That's up to the board, which is considering revising or eliminating the rule. As a practical matter, the board already takes the age of sex workers into account. Prostitutes in their early teens, for instance, are generally assumed to be victims of human trafficking or coercion and therefore are deemed eligible for compensation.