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No Decriminalization of Traffickers –

PRE has documented the harms of decriminalized prostitution on this website for many years. Now, San Francisco voters face a real risk of across-the-board decriminalization of the sex industry. Melissa Farley recently wrote this op-ed piece (October 17, 2008):

Prop K is a Trojan Horse that Would Turn San Francisco into a Sanctuary City for Pimps and Traffickers

While most people intuitively understand the harms of prostitution, they are confused about what to do about it. Decriminalization would make prostitution the social and legal equivalent of buying toothpaste. Pimps would be San Francisco’s new businessmen. Decriminalization would mainstream prostitution’s human rights violations, creating a class of mostly poor girls and women, often those who are ethnically and racially marginalized, who would be available for purchase.

Masquerading as a progressive initiative that would protect sex workers, Prop K directs San Francisco Police Department and the DA to refuse to enforce the State of California’s prostitution laws. District Attorney Kamala Harris explained that Prop K would grant virtual immunity to traffickers by prohibiting prostitution investigations that often reveal evidence of sex trafficking. Prop K’s proponents hide that fact.

Non-enforcement of prostitution laws would put our community at risk, and send a legal welcome out to pimps, traffickers, and johns. Prop K would empower pimps. K’s proponents have renamed pimps: “support staff” and “business managers.”

Ten years ago, the San Francisco Commissionon the Status of Women issued a Report titled “Violence Against Women in Prostitution in San Francisco.” 78% of those who identified as prostitutes/sex workers had been traumatized by violence, the Commission found, “ranging from childhood sexual abuse, kidnapping, beatings, rape, torture, domestic violence, to sexual coercion and harassment –with many reporting multiple incidents and repeated re-victimization.” [i]

Women from Korea, China, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam testified about the San Francisco sex industry. Some had been sold by traffickers in San Francisco, where they existed in conditions of actual slavery. Prostitution itself is a racist, sexist activity that increases human trafficking. The first prostituted women in California were trafficked Chinese women. Today we see the same trafficking of Chinese, Korean, Filipina, Thai, and Vietnamese women who are sold to johns in Tenderloin massage parlors and brothels located in residential neighborhoods like the Sunset.

Decriminalization can’t stopthe violence, abuse, and stigma that are built-in to prostitution. Prostitution has increased dramatically in Australia and New Zealand since decriminalization, with a 200-400% increase in street prostitution in Auckland and a 300% increase in brothels inVictoria. Prostitution of children and youth has increased in both locations, with humanitarian agencies declaring that Maori and Aboriginal children are at highest risk for prostitution. Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands are now known as destinations for sex tourists. Attracted by the flow of cash, organized crime has increased. Mayor Job Cohen has begun closing down Amsterdam’s prostitution zones because legal prostitution did not reduce crime as proponents had promised and women were no safer than when prostitution was illegal. When prostitution is decriminalized, neighborhoods mount legal battles over whose back yard the next brothel will be zoned into. A few days ago, frightened parents discovered that a New Zealand brothel was in the same building as a child care center. Under decriminalized prostitution “We don’t believe we have any legal avenues to stop them,” said the director of the child care center.[ii]

In 2004, the voters in Berkeley overwhelmingly rejected a proposal for decriminalization of prostitution. Asked to assess the impact of decriminalization on Berkeley, the City Manager reported to the Mayor and City Council that decriminalized prostitution attract pimps and johns, and would result in Berkeley’s becoming the Bay Area prostitution destination point. The exploitation of women and children, especially teenage prostitutes, would likely increase in Berkeley as a result of decriminalization. Decriminalization would significantly increase the cost of law enforcement, he predicted, and would also result in an increase in the numbers of crimes of sexual assault, battery, and robbery.

Medical providers would see an increase in STDs, according to the City Manager, especially in vulnerable groups of people with HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases. Regardless of its legal status, prostitution places those in it at extremely high risk for HIV. That’s because they are the most raped class of people in the world, and because many johns refuse to use condoms. There is no evidence that decriminalized prostitution reduces HIV risk. A recent study documented a 3-4% increase in HIV risk for each additional month spent in a brothel. [iii]

We need more services for women escaping prostitution, not more pimps trafficking women into San Francisco. A recession is hardest on those already struggling to get by. People in prostitution, whether they are teens running from abusive homes, gay youth rejected by homophobic environments, women who have no other way of paying next month’s rent, or women who’ve been trafficked from China, Guatemala, Korea, Russia or Honduras –all are at risk and deserve our support, not Prop K which eliminates services and locks in those who tell us they want out. A human-rights based approach would offer those in prostitution what they tell us they need: housing, medical and psychological services, and job training. 95% want to get out of prostitution, not stay in it. Those in prostitution should not be arrested, but the pimps who sell them and the men who buy them should be arrested. Vote No on K.

[i] San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women (March, 1998) Violence Against Women in Prostitution: A Report and Recommendations to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors. Available at

[ii] “Brothel Shares Childcare Building” OneNews NZ, Oct 14, 2008,

[iii] Silverman, J. G, Decker, M.R., Gupta, J., Maheshwari, A., Willis, B.M., and Raj, A. (2007) HIV Prevalence and Predictors among Sex-trafficked Nepalese Girls and Women. J of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 43(5): 588-593