California victims' board revisits denied rape claims

Photo courtesy of Joel Kramer.

The state of California is trying to make up for stigmatizing rape survivors.

Last week, the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board approved restitution claims for 14 crime victims who were previously denied. Each one was from a sex worker who had been raped.

A policy adopted in 1999 ruled sex workers ineligible for benefits, even when when their profession played little part in the attacks. Facing pressure from defenders of sex workers’ rights, the three-person CalVCP board scrapped the policy back in December 2013.

At the time, the decision didn’t appear to be retroactive. But following a closed session meeting on March 20, board chairwoman Marybel Batjer released a statement announcing the about-face. “While the applications discussed in today’s closed session are, and will remain, confidential, I can note that the victims in these 14 cases were victims of rape,” Batjer’s statement reads. “Those 14 are now approved.”

The CalVCP board’s deputy executive officer, Jon M. Myers, said the claims had been denied between the years of 2011 and 2013. Myers called these the “oldest applications” and said another handful would be recommended for approval next month.

According to earlier figures provided by Myers, the board denied 80 sex-worker claims over the past three years alone, and every claim submitted by a sex worker before that. Myers said only rape- and domestic-violence-related claims were subject to reconsideration.

SN&R contacted two women who survived brutal rape attacks while working as escorts and whose claims the state denied last year. Neither had been contacted by CalVCP. “I’ve given up on getting any help anymore,” one of the women, from Sacramento, said via email.

CalVCP processed more than 54,000 applications last fiscal year, 58 percent of which were from women, and approved nearly $62 million in reimbursements for medical bills, lost wages, moving expenses and funeral costs, among other aid.

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