July 11 (UPI) -- California lawmakers have passed a bill this week that protects sex workers from arrest for reporting rape as sexually transmitted diseases statewide have climbed.
The Senate Bill 233 grants sex workers who report violent crimes immunity from arrest for soliciting prostitution. It also prohibits possession of condoms as probable cause to arrest someone for sex work or as evidence to prosecute them.
"If sex workers risk arrest for reporting a crime, they simply won't come forward and violent criminals will go free," said State Sen. Scott Wiener, D- San Francisco, the bill's sponsor.
California Department of Public Health data show that the rates of sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea rose in 2017 to their highest rate since 1990 and syphilis to its highest rate since 1987.
The bill "prioritizes public safety," Wiener noted in a statement when the bill passed out of the Assembly by a 54-13 vote last week and was headed to the Senate for a vote.
"When a sex worker is scared to come forward and report a crime, the sex worker is less safe, and we are all less safe as a community," Wiener said in the statement, adding that a 2014 study by the University of California and St. James Infirmary found that 60 percent of sex workers experienced some form of violence while working. "And, carrying condoms to protect one's health should never be criminalized. I am grateful to my colleagues for acting to protect sex workers' health and safety."