San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution
Final Report 1996

IV. Quality of Life Concerns

When the Task Force first convened, members pledged to remember that they were all part of the same community, all adversely affected by crime, drugs, litter and noise. The Task Force was the first opportunity for representatives from neighborhood and business groups to meet face to face with prostitutes and advocates. It was also the first opportunity to have an informed discussion involving public health and legal experts. Given the historical lack of communication, the Task Force is pleased at the full and frank airing of views.

Neighborhood and business association representatives expressed their concerns about drug paraphernalia and condoms left on the streets, congested traffic, excessive noise and other nuisances.53 They sponsored two community fora: one for the Mission at Horace Mann Middle School, and one by the Polk Street Merchant's Association. At both fora, Task Force members answered questions, but more importantly, listened, as neighborhood residents expressed a wide range perspectives concerning street prostitution. Despite their concerns about noise, traffic, etc., most residents at these fora supported decriminalization or legalization of prostitution. They expressed frustration at the money spent on prostitution abatement which could not be used for much needed neighborhood improvements.54

At the same time, the Task Force listened to testimony from sex workers who complained of abuse and violence from clients, street violence, attacks by men who target prostitutes, and even by the police.55 It was very difficult to get such testimony because prostitutes were afraid of reprisals from police if they came forward. One forum was held at City Hall expressly for prostitutes. (See Appendix D.: Testimony). They testified about police misconduct and neglect. They uniformly expressed fear and frustration that when they are victims of crime the police do not work to protect them or to find the perpetrators.56

Testimony regarding immigrants, African American and transgender women show that they are singled out for arrest, as well as abuse, including numerous reports of racist and homophobic verbal harassment.57 Individuals who may be, may have been, or may appear to be prostitutes are detained and/or arrested when they simply leave their homes.58

For prostitutes, being labeled as a criminal can mean that a woman may lose custody of her children, especially since there is a mandatory jail sentence on second conviction. Very often prostitutes "lead double lives," forced underground for fear of being evicted from their homes, losing their jobs, and the break-up of family and other relationships. Immigrants who work as prostitutes, particularly people of color, have fewer economic alternatives due to institutional racism and can face deportation if convicted of prostitution. Therefore they are unlikely to report violence against them.

Although pimping and pandering laws are ineffective and rarely used against those who exploit and abuse prostitutes, these charges are brought against prostitutes working together.59 Women working in hotels are harassed by security guards. Landlords often refuse to rent to sex workers or overcharge for substandard accommodations. Sex workers who are found out may get evicted and end up working on the streets.

The majority of Task Force members came to the conclusion that decriminalization of prostitution was the best way to address the concerns of every constituency. Residents' valid concerns about quality of life, yet support for decriminalization, was a conflict more apparent than real. The conflict could be resolved by focusing on the complaints: not against prostitution itself, but by the perceived fallout or side effects of street prostitution. The best way to ameliorate poor neighborhood conditions and at the same time save the City money is to focus on the direct causes of the complaints and not on prostitution itself. Likewise, without undercover sting operations there would not be the same opportunity for police abuse and constitutional violations. If prostitutes knew they would not be arrested for reporting crime, they would not fear claiming their civil rights.

Unfortunately, no consensus was reached regarding mutually beneficial solutions.60 After the Task Force had been meeting for nearly a year, six neighborhood/merchant organization representatives resigned following a Task Force vote in favor of decriminalization. It is clear from these differences that further work must be done to facilitate communication between those concerned with prostitution policy reform as it affects street activities. Further discussion and candid debate is clearly in order. It would be a shame to waste the progress made so far.

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