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New California Laws Likely to Move Sex-For-Hire Out from Behind Closed Doors and into the Open Streets and Public Spaces: Best Practices for Sex Workers

Two new California laws, when taken together, create a strong legal incentive for prostitutes to move their services out from behind the closed doors of hotel rooms and out onto the streets, public busses and trains, and park benches.

The first law (Assembly Bill 1788), passed in the 2022 California legislative session and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, holds hotels civilly liable for failing to take measures to prevent sex trafficking. Liability attaches if a supervisory employee knew or acted with reckless disregard of sex trafficking activity within the hotel and failed to inform law enforcement, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, or another appropriate victim service organization.

The second law, (Senate Bill 357), authored by Senator Scott Wiener and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, repeals several prior existing laws prohibiting loitering in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution, or directing, supervising, recruiting, or aiding a person who is loitering with the intent to commit prostitution, or collecting or receiving all or part of the proceeds of an act of prostitution.

Industrious sex workers now will simply save time and money that once would have been spent checking into a hotel room, and instead solicit their services in the open air for the public to observe. And this can be done without fear of law enforcement interference. Activities that would have previously aroused suspicion from law enforcement are not now suspicious as a matter of law. This includes soliciting prostitution by repeatedly beckoning to, stopping, and engaging in conversations with
passersby. It also includes soliciting prostitution by repeatedly stopping motor vehicles by hailing the drivers, waving arms, or making any other bodily gestures. It also includes soliciting prostitution by circling an area in a motor vehicle while repeatedly beckoning to and hailing pedestrians and other motorists.

Law enforcement should be aware of and trained on these new laws because practices that were previously legal may now give rise to legal liability or employment discipline.

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