California's three-member Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board voted unanimously Thursday to overturn a regulation barring victims of sexual assault from receiving restitution if they work in the sex trade.
The 14-year-old policy states that victims of a violent crime may be denied compensation if they were involved in the events leading up to that crime, including mutual combat, illegal drug-related activity, gang-related activity and prostitution.
Advocates for sex workers argued that the regulation was discriminatory, essentially blaming prostitutes for their own rape and putting other women at greater risk of attack.
"I find Rule 649.56 repugnant," board chairwoman Marybel Batjer said before the vote, "and I don't understand why it was passed in 1999."
The board will now begin a formal process to remove the policy from its guidelines, which it said should be completed and voted on next spring.
The decision followed testimony from sex workers and their advocates, including Kristen DiAngelo, a former prostitute who was raped in Sacramento in 1983.
Though her assailant was ultimately prosecuted and convicted, DiAngelo said, he was offered a plea bargain that allowed him to serve only 45 days in prison. He went on to assault eight more women, none of whom were in the sex trade, she said.
"What happens when you segregate a population that you deem unworthy," DiAngelo told the board, "is you give predators a training ground" to attack other women.
After the vote, DiAngelo said she was numb from excitement.
"We were able to add safety and protection into so many people's lives today," she said. The ability to apply for restitution "allows to have us a voice."
Maxine Doogan of the Erotic Service Providers Union, one of the groups that led the push to overturn the regulation, called the decision "a big step forward for California."
Sex workers "contribute to society," she said, "and we contributed today by taking a stand for victims everywhere."
PHOTO: Former sex worker Kristen DiAngelo, facing, hugs sex worker activist Carol Leigh at a meeting in San Francisco on November 12, 2013. The Associated Press/Jeff Chiu