SACRAMENTO -- A state board on Thursday granted 14 rape victims who had been working as prostitutes the right to be compensated, the first such action since it reversed its policy on the issue last year.
The California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board took the action on behalf of women whose claims had previously been denied. The victims' next step is to submit the amount of compensation they are seeking.
The decision follows a vote by the board in December to eliminate a policy that banned compensation for those who were attacked while working as prostitutes. The new rules allow victims of sexual assault who were engaged in an act of prostitution at the time of the attack to be reimbursed by the state for their medical costs and related expenses including counseling, lost income and increasing home security.
The cases are confidential, but board chairwoman Marybel Batjer said in a statement that all 14 were raped. All 14 cases "were earlier denied because of the victim's involvement in prostitution," she said.
Prostitutes had been excluded from receiving victims' compensation since 1999 because their activities are illegal.
California, which created the nation's first victim-compensation program in 1965, had also been the only state to specifically prohibit sex workers from being compensated if they were the victims of violent crimes.
Most of the 14 victims were raped in vehicles or hotel rooms, said Jon Myers, the board's deputy executive officer. Two were raped at knife point. Another was raped after she changed her mind and tried to leave.
Payments to the 14 victims aren't yet known because they have yet to turn in their expenses for reimbursement, Myers said. The average reimbursement awarded to all victims by the board is just under $2,000, though victims can be repaid for up to $62,000 in expenses.
The program gets its money from fines and restitution paid by criminals, as well as federal matching funds.
Batjer said the three-member board will continue reviewing old cases to see if any more victims now qualify. Last year alone, the board denied 28 claims because the victims were deemed to have been involved in prostitution-related activities.
"Oh my gosh, that's good news. That was our hope," said Maxine Doogan, a representative of the Erotic Service Providers Union, after she was informed of the board's actions by a reporter. "They're just really doing the right thing."
Rachel West, a representative of the US PROStitutes Collective, called the decision "fantastic news. We're really pleased that they went backwards and approved cases from before."
Both advocacy groups, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, had pushed for repealing the rule that was adopted when the state was generally getting tougher on crime. Prosecutors were among those supporting the repeal on the grounds that sex workers often are coerced and should receive benefits if they are injured.
The board's rules still block reimbursement for victims injured because of their involvement with illegal drugs, gang activities or consensual fights.