Highly vulnerable and easily exploitable

Tiny - Posted on 11 April 2011

David Elliot Lewis and Rachel West

Monday, February 15, 2010;

People protest the treatment of sex workers

Voices shouted out on Polk Street near Sutter Street in San Francisco. Organized by Rachel West of US PROS (US Prostitutes Collective), a group gathered to protest the treatment and plight of sex workers. This is a highly vulnerable and easily exploited group that now faces further oppression by an increasingly aggressive SF Police force.

Since January 1st, 36 women and 15 men have been arrested for soliciting. This intensified policing has caused a number of unfortunate consequences including pushing sex workers into more isolated areas, which places them in far greater danger. Rachel also said that Police stings send the message to violent men that sex workers are fair game. Lori Nairne, a nurse, said that killers often start with sex workers and go on to kill other women.

This action drew at its peak more than a dozen protesters and about a dozen members of the media and police. At one time, there were at least five simultaneous video-graphers documenting the event including one from KGO and another from our local NBC network affiliate.

Another purpose of this rally is to voice opposition to our city's proposed plan to post arrested client mug photos online. This helps no one. It just hurts everyone involved. It will also needlessly break up families, damage social networks, cause job loss and as secondary fallout, leave even more children unsupported and traumatized.

Additionally, Rachel said that the enforcement of solicitation laws produces a disproportionate impact on minorities. Black women are seven times more likely to be arrested. Men of color also make up 40% of the men arrested. Most tragically, immigrant women are routinely targeted for both arrest and then deportation which often separates them from their families.

Rachel stated how San Francisco's politicians blame sex workers for the increasing visibility of street prostitution while conveniently forgetting that we are in the middle of the worst economic recession since the great depression. The fact is that about 70% of all sex workers are mothers trying to support their families. It is even more tragic that of the millions in city funds spent on prostitution enforcement, our city is robbed of the same amount of money that could have been used to help lift people out of poverty. In 2005, San Francisco spent 11.4 million on enforcement. Spending has only gone up since then.

Many countries (e.g. Germany, Australia, Netherlands, New Zealand, etc.) have decriminalized prostitution and as a result have enjoyed many societal benefits. These include lower rates of all types of sex crimes and markedly safer conditions for those who work or purchase services in their sex industries. These countries benefit from significantly lower rates of rape, sexual assault and other sex crimes.

Rape doesn't just traumatize its immediate victim, often for life, but often transmits and reverberates its trauma throughout the victim's social network. Children, spouses, parents, siblings and friends of the victim are also severely impacted, often for years or decades.

A single rape can result in an unending multi-dimensional severe form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for every person that cares for or depends upon the victim. Therefore, if a society possesses knowledge of how to reduce its frequency of sexual assaults, it can and should do everything possible to act upon this knowledge. To not act is a crime of both omission and negligence. Easier access to prostitution reduces rape. This has been found in every country that tried it.

In 1996, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors established a task force on prostitution. This resulted in a two year examination of the impact of prostitution laws and policy in the city. This study made a number of significant findings. They included the following.

a) San Francisco's enforcement of its prostitution laws marginalizes and victimizes prostitutes making it more difficult for those who want to get out and also more difficult for those who remain to claim their civil and human rights.

b) Once a person gets a rap sheet as a known prostitute she/he is trapped and stigmatized for life, unable to pursue other jobs.

c) Prostitutes are afraid to call the police when they are crime victims, for fear of being arrested themselves.

d) Enforcement targets those most vulnerable, including African American, transgender and immigrant women and rather than reduce prostitution, it just pushes them from one place to the next.

This report recommended shifting spending from law enforcement to services and alternatives for the prostitutes themselves.

In 1998, a public hearing by the Commission on the Status of Women reported some very troubling findings. They included:

a) While prostitutes suffer an extremely high incidence of violence they are least likely to report violence and rarely seek crisis support services.

b) Police do not take violence against prostitutes seriously. Rather, they are typically treated with disregard and contempt. Also, police misconduct and violence against prostitutes is commonplace in San Francisco and that women on the streets believe they are at risk of sexual assault and other abuse from members of the San Francisco Police Department.

c) Prostitution is inextricably linked to poverty, limited employment opportunities and the challenges of being the sole support for one's children.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors' Mitigating Violence Against Prostitutes Resolution passed in 2000. Its task force recommendations included:

a) Criminalization of prostitution only forces prostitution further underground and increases incidents of violence against prostitutes . . . such as coercion, extortion, rape, battery, robbery, attempted homicide.

b) Many of these women have children and must rely on prostitution to support their families. Prostitution often results from rejection by family, poverty and homelessness.

This resolution was supported by our city's Immigrant Rights Commission, the Youth Commission and our Human Rights Commission among many other groups and individuals.

It should also be noted that in 2008, while Proposition K, the attempt to decriminalize prostitution, failed because of a well funded campaign of disinformation and misinformation, it still won 41% of the ballot vote.

Peoples attitudes continue to change. More and more believe it is time for our society to stop living by antiquated puritan values. Many now believe it is also a self-evident Human Right to decide for ourselves what one can or cannot do with their own bodies.

This includes the right to rent them out. People already legally rent out their minds, hands and legs. Renting one's body is seen as a basic issue of personal liberty. Until enough citizens stand up for this basic right, this war of oppression against sex workers will not stop.


The US PROStitutes Collective phone number is 415-626-4114.

Their contact address is PO BOX 14512, San Francisco, CA 94114.

Two additional informative websites include:




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