Prop. K: Untested Theories Drive Prostitution Debate

By Bernice Yeung, Public Press

Proposition K, which seeks to decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco, has spawned a heated debate over how to curb human trafficking and protect the lives and health of sex workers.

A close look at campaign advertising around the proposition reveals sharp disagreements between supporters and opponents over what the local impacts of the law would be, as well as a schism in feminist circles over prostitution itself.

Drafted by the Erotic Service Providers Union (ESPU), a local sex workers’ alliance, Proposition K would require San Francisco law enforcement to disregard state laws prohibiting prostitution.

The measure also calls for the estimated $1.6 million to $3.2 million currently spent on prostitution-related arrests and prosecutions to be directed toward other crimes, including violence against prostitutes.

Despite an impact that would be purely local, the dialogue surrounding the proposition reflects the increasing globalization of the sex industry.

“Mythology” For Both Sides

Proponents argue that decriminalization will help eliminate coercion and violence against sex workers — including those who are trafficked — because prostitutes will be able to report abuses to the police without fearing arrest.

Supporters also say that decriminalized prostitution would empower clients to approach authorities if they suspected a prostitute had been trafficked or was being victimized by a pimp.

Opponents, however, argue that decriminalizing prostitution will make it harder for law enforcement to pursue human trafficking cases because they will have fewer legal tools at their disposal.

Both sides are basing their arguments on untested theories, as there are currently no known models of officially sanctioned decriminalized prostitution.

Countries and cities such as New Zealand or Amsterdam that have sought alternatives to criminalization have instead legalized prostitution, which then allows for government regulation (which some proponents of decriminalization are wary of).

“Mythology is informing both sides of the debate,” says Ron Weitzer, a professor of sociology at George Washington University and an expert on prostitution policy. “From the opponents, there is talk about the dramatic increase of pimping and more abuse of women and more young girls who would be put into prostitution if this proposition were to pass, but they don’t have the evidence to support that argument because there is no model for it to be compared to.

“The mythology on the yes-on-Prop K-side is that a totally unregulated system is the best option for workers, and there’s plenty of evidence internationally that that’s not true,” Weitzer adds. “Decriminalization means that workers don’t have any kinds of protections in place that are institutionalized. Instead, everything falls on the workers themselves to report abuses and solve problems.”

Fact-Checking the Supporters

Backers contend that the current legal framework isn’t effective in combating trafficking.

On a Web site and flyers paid for by the Committee United for Safety and Protection, proponents state that “as of this date, there have been no prosecutions for human trafficking in California.”

According to a University of California at Berkeley study, however, there were 57 human trafficking cases involving more than 500 victims in California between 1983 and 2003; about 46 percent of those victims were involved in sex trafficking.

Supporters of Proposition K also argue that decriminalized sex work leads to healthier, safer communities.

In making these claims, proponents tend to use the terms “decriminalization” and “legalization” interchangeably, even though they are not comparable.

For example, flyers produced by supporters of Proposition K state that “studies have shown over and over again that decriminalization greatly improves public health.”

In fact, some studies have shown that prostitutes are healthier and feel safer under legalized prostitution regimes, where the workplace and testing for sexually transmitted diseases is regulated by the government.

The proponents’ Web site also says that “a five year study just released in New Zealand, where decriminalization has been in place since 2003, found no increase in prostitution, either street or home based.”

The New Zealand study, however, was based on results of the country’s legalized prostitution industry, and cannot be compared with the potential ramifications of decriminalization, which are unknown.

Fact-Checking the Opponents

Opponents say that decriminalization would negatively impact local efforts to prevent human trafficking by arguing that California’s prostitution laws are routinely used to “investigate and prosecute traffickers and those involved in exploiting children.”

Indeed, local and federal law enforcement have relied on prostitution laws to conduct raids on Bay Area brothels to pursue trafficking cases, as was the case in a 2005 federal investigation of Bay Area Korean massage parlors.

Because human trafficking occurs in all industries, state and federal labor laws are also frequently used to prosecute traffickers, and these laws could be used to pursue sex trafficking cases if prostitution is decriminalized.

Furthermore, the federal Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act and the state’s anti-trafficking law could trigger prosecutions of traffickers.

Whether it will be harder or easier to pursue sex trafficking cases as a result of decriminalizing prostitution remains to be seen.

Reflecting an anti-prostitution perspective, opponents also paint a grim portrait by making a number of dramatic statistical claims about the sex industry that are not entirely accurate.

For example, a Web site paid for by the Committee Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation notes that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14 years, and 90 percent of those in prostitution want to escape it.

Those figures were gathered by local social service organizations, and while the numbers may accurately reflect the circumstances of the agency’s clientele, the data does not distinguish between street prostitution and indoor prostitution.

Also, because the data is not based on a randomized sample, it cannot be generalized to the entire prostitution population in San Francisco.

Differing Views Among Feminists

The debate among those for and against Proposition K also highlights a differing philosophy about prostitution among feminists.

Proponents argue that sex work is in essence a form of female empowerment because it reflects a woman’s ability to make choices about her body.

As a result, their Web sites and leaflets frame the measure as a matter of justice and civil rights that would create “equal protection” for sex workers.

The largest donors to the Committee United for Safety and Protection are ESPU founder Maxine Doogan, Spread magazine, and Jeffrey Klausner, director of STD Prevention and Control Services at the San Francisco Department of Health.

Opponents of Proposition K believe sex work is predicated on the objectification of women and that prostitution is inherently unhealthy, sexist and exploitative.

On their Web site, they argue that Proposition K is “dangerous” and will “harm women, children, and the San Francisco community as a whole.”

The largest donors to the Committee Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation are Twiss Butler, a lifelong member of the National Organization of Women; an organization called the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women; and Gloria Steinem.

Effects on City Funding, Spending

In addition to focusing on decriminalization, Proposition K contains two clauses that could affect the way the city receives and administers funds related to human trafficking and prostitution.

First, Proposition K would forbid the city from applying for or receiving state or federal funds to prevent human trafficking if the money is spent on efforts related to “racial profiling” of sex workers.

It is unclear whether this clause will impact the city’s ability to receive funds related to trafficking; human-rights advocates note that traffickers often prey on specific immigrant communities, making investigations and outreach into certain racial or ethnic groups necessary.

Secondly, Proposition K would require the city to stop administering what supporters of decriminalization have dubbed “re-education” programs.

One program specifically identified in the initiative for termination is the First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP), a diversion program for clients who pay $1,000 to participate, and from which the city collects about $162,000 a year.

About half of the funds derived from the FOPP are used to support programs that provide social services to prostitutes who express interest in leaving the profession.

• The San Francisco 2008 Election Truthiness Report is co-produced by and The Public Press, and funded through small donations using the Spot.Us “crowdfunding” Web site.

• Tune in Crosscurrents on 91.7 KALW-FM in San Francisco, Thursday, Oct. 30 at 5:00 p.m., for more on Proposition K with reporter Bernice Yeung.

A former staff writer for SF Weekly who has also worked as an editor at California Lawyer magazine, Bernice’s work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Village Voice, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, Dwell, Wired and Glamour.

30 thoughts on “Prop. K: Untested Theories Drive Prostitution Debate

  1. The Truthiness Report

    The San Francisco 2008 Election Truthiness Report is co-produced by and The Public Press, and funded through small donations…

  2. This article is filled with misconceptions, but I want to point to one blatant error in the report above which underscores the sloppy reporting here. The New Zealand legislation refers to here is specifically noted as decriminalization legislation, quoting directly “The purpose of this Act is to decriminalise prostitution…” which is taken from the introduction “Section 3.

    Again, this is one of many serious errors, which can be corrected by others. I just don’t understand why a journalist would write a story about how incorrect others are, yet be so careless in their own reportage.

  3. Hi Carol, thanks for your note. Could you be more specific about the “many serious errors” so that we can address them?

    Regarding the difference between legalization and decriminalization, our reporter Bernice Yeung responds to your comments below.

    Josh Wilson
    Editor *



    It is true that New Zealand’s Prostitution Reform Act of 2003 is sometimes referred to as “decriminalizing” prostitution, and that the words “decriminalization” and “legalization” are used interchangeably.

    However, the actual intent and effect of the New Zealand legislation was to legalize prostitution so that it was no longer llegal. As the text of the legislation states, “No contract for the provision of, or arranging the provision of, commercial sexual services is illegal or void on public policy or other similar grounds.” Details:

    Legalizing prostitution allowed the government of New Zealand to impose a number of regulations on the industry related to advertising, location of brothels and the requiring safe sex practices. Details:

    Proposition K is described in the text of the ballot initiative — and in this article — as “decriminalization” because it seeks to require local law enforcement agencies to disregard prostitution laws, as opposed to outright legalizing sex work.

  4. Yes, aside from New Zealand, Prostitution was also decriminalized (NOT “Legalized”)in New South Wales, Australia.

    Different states in Australia have various forms of legalization or Decriminalization, and a recent study from New South Wales (Decriminalized) found it was the state with the LOWEST STD rates in Australia, lower than in places like Melbourne, that has “legalized” prostitution.

    Also, Decriminalization DOES involve regulation. It would be impossible to have a law that stopped regulation of business. ALL businesses are regulated. You cannot escape zoning laws, labor regulations or taxation.

    Decriminalization is really a form of legalization. The terms are just confusing because “Legalization” generally just refers to the kind of system in Nevada, where prostitution is ONLY legal in brothels. Working outside the brothel system is still illegal, and that system results in all the same dangers for workers who work outside the brothel system.

    Decriminalization means that Prostitution is treated the same way as all other businesses.

  5. There is indeed a big difference between Decriminalization and Legalization. DECRIMINALIZATION simply means removing something from the penal code, so that it is no longer a criminal act. It does NOT imply any regulation by the government. LEGALIZATION by definition involves some kind of government regulation. These are technical definitions, and standard in academia. Unfortunately, members of the public often confuse the two, or use one when they mean the other. The New Zealand legislation may say “decriminalization”, which was the first step in the 2003 law, but New Zealand’s 2003 law also stipulated a host of mandatory regulations for prostitution.

    Proposition K is DE FACTO decriminalization. It instructs the authorities not to enforce the laws against prostitution, but it does not formally remove prostitution from the statute book (which would be pure, de jure decriminalization), nor does it provide any regulations (legalization).

    -Ron Weitzer (Professor of Sociology, George Washington University)

  6. One thing that needs to be understood about Proposition K is that it is a San Francisco city ballot measure, whereas the statute that makes prostitution illegal in San Francisco is a *state* law (California Penal code section 647b). So legalizing prostitution at the San Francisco level is not a legal option. The most that local residents can do via a local ballot measure is vote to tell the city government, “Do not devote any resources to enforcing this law by arresting or prosecuting people for prostitution.” That is essentially the approach taken by Proposition K.

    Residents do have another legal means of speaking out as well — when serving as jurors they can refuse to convict people who are prosecuted for prostitution. This appears to be happening. Public Defender Jeff Adachi, in a July 25 letter to the Elections Department, notes that of the 9 cases his office handled which went to trial in fiscal year 2007-2008, not one defendant was convicted.

    Legalizing something in a society as statist as the U.S. is today is unlikely to be accomplished without the intrusion of various government controls and regulations. But one can theoretically imagine a pure legalization that did not involve adding regulations, taxes, or controls. After all, there are still a few things you can do without being taxed, regulated, or controlled by government in any way. The act of blowing your nose into a tissue in your own home, for example, is (at least so far) completely legal, untaxed, and unregulated. Of course government still sticks its nose (pardon the pun) into the manufacture, sale, and disposal of the tissue way more than is necessary to protect life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. At this point we can only imagine a healthier and less aggression-based society in which consensual activities involving one’s own body could be legalized without the poison of mandatory regulations being put into the bathwater with the baby.

    But getting back to Proposition K, the bottom line is that a local San Francisco ballot measure could not have been written so as to legalize prostitution, even had supporters been foolish or masochistic enough to favor legalization over decriminalization in the current climate of “wars” on drugs, sin taxes, girls working in the Nevada brothels being legally kept virtual prisoners there for days at a time, etc.

    Given this reality, the legalization/decriminalization issue appears to be a bit of a red herring in the debate over Proposition K. I have not seen any of the measure’s opponents lobbying in favor of legalization, which they generally give every indication of opposing just as they oppose decriminalization. From what I can see, saying that Prop. K does not include regulations is usually nothing more than a thin rationalization for those who want to vote against it without appearing to be bigoted against sex work.

  7. Anyone who operates a business is required to get a business license and pay taxes. Anyone who opens up any establishment is required to get permission from the planning department.

    Anyone who opens a business is required to follow all relevant labor regulations, including wage and hour laws, anti-discrimination laws, sexual harrassment laws, etc.

    These laws are all already on the books. Decriminalization means that all businesses must follow these laws. If they don’t, then the city government has all kinds of ways to fine businesses that don’t follow these laws. Prop K does not repeal any of the regulations that are already on the books for all businesses.

    The San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution studied this issue for two years. That Task Force included all the stake holders that are affected by prostitution. They recommended decriminalization, not “legalization.” That task force also recommended a variety of other regulatory changes, such as licensing massage parlors through the public health department instead of the police department.

    YES – these are examples of regulations that already exist, which would continue to exist.

    Lastly, Prop K allows the Board of Supervisors to change the law by a 2/3 vote if they find that it reduces the violence and criminalization against sex workers. In other words, if anyone can think of other regulations that should be added, the Board of Supervisors will have the authority to do so.

    A good thing they could do would be to read the full Task Force report, and implement the rest of their recommended REGULATIONS.

  8. There are several facts that are incorrect in this article. If you are the author, you can email me privately, and I can have a conversation with you about it.

  9. One last thing. Right after the above radio show at 5pm, the Yes On Prop K campaign is having a town hall meeting at the Unitarian Church from 7-9pm.

    If anyone out there wants to see what the Yes On Prop K people are saying you can come. If you are still not sure, it will be a good place to meet many of the proponents of Prop K in person, and make up your own mind about the measure. It would also be a good place to ask questions.

    There are many groups and individuals in support of the measure, including union activists, health professionals, sex worker rights activists, women’s rights advocates, etc, and many will be there.

  10. 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.”

    Decriminalization can’t stop the 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 in Victoria. 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.

    In 2004, 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 under decriminalization, 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. They should not be arrested, but the pimps who sell them d should be arrested. Vote No on K.
    Don’t turn San Francisco into a sanctuary city for pimps and traffickers.

  11. 1. This quote is the point at which i disqualify this man’s blatantly patronizing viewpoint:

    “Decriminalization means that workers don’t have any kinds of protections in place that are institutionalized. Instead, everything falls on the workers themselves to report abuses and solve problems.”

    What protections would you say that we have in place that are institutionalized right now? The police when we get robbed or raped? The court system? The average hospitals which many of us cannot afford because we are uninsured? Hmm, the court system? where gang rape is deemed as “theft of services” as in Philadelphia, (2007 judge deni) Of course these dumb prostitutes would NEVER be able to solve problems or even report violence! Actually, some of them actually get the guts to, despite criminal status and usually because of such status the case blows up against them.

    Dear Ron, et al, even though some of us dumb sex workers do have advanced degrees in various things from universities and such, even the ones with no formal education are the BEST ones to solve problems which relate to their own communities.

    2. It is unclear whether this clause will impact the city’s ability to receive funds related to trafficking; human-rights advocates note that traffickers often prey on specific immigrant communities, making investigations and outreach into certain racial or ethnic groups necessary.

    Do you also believe in stopping Latinos with white t-shirts and bald heads using the excuse of “gang injunction” to detain and harass people to cut down on gang activity?

    Do you agree with raiding the kitchens of restaurants and factories where undocumented workers from Mexico, Guatamala, and El Salvador are known to be to rescue such workers from human trafficking?

    Bernice, was racial profiling okay when Chinese workers homes were arsoned and certain they could not buy the land that they wanted to build farms on but instead had to sharecrop from white Americans in California? Was racial profiling okay when Japanese Americans were interned during WWII?

  12. a nonpartisan journalism project that does not endorse candidates or legislation, or editorialize about the issues we cover.

    It is a misreading to attribute editorial opinion about the issues to the writer.

    Thank you all for your bringing your voices, ideas and experience to this important conversation. We urge all participants to do so in the spirit of productive dialogue in a democracy.

    We support a productive dialogue environment as defined by our posting and comments policy, which can be reviewed here:

    Thank you all again for addressing these substantive issues!

  13. The material is based on a quote from San Francisco Public Defender, Jeff Adachi’s statement on the impact of Prop K. “The California Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which took effect January 2006, makes human trafficking for prostitution or forced labor a felony in California. Since the passage of the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act, I am not aware of any prosecutions for human trafficking under this section.”

    This document can be obtained at:

  14. Re the statement in this report identifying Twiss Butler as “a lifelong member of the National Organization of Women”:

    If my mother registered me at birth as a member of the “National Organization of Women” (whatever that is), she forgot to tell me so.

    As a matter of journalistic integrity, the reporter should identify the source of this nugget of misinformation, since it certainly did not come from me or any information filed as required of a contributor to the Committee Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation.

  15. NOW, the Organization For Women, was inadvertently misindentified in the text of the story; we regret the error.

    According to our reporter, Bernice Yeung:

    “Twiss Butler was identified as having donated $2,000 between January 1 and September 30, 2008 in public documents filed with the SF Ethics Commission by the Committee Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation (California Form 460, Schedule A: Monetary Contributions Received).

    “Butler was identified as a ‘lifelong member’ of NOW by Mai Shiozaki, the spokeswoman for the organization.”

  16. This article receives gets the dubious honor of being the worst reporting on prop k I’ve seen so far. Where to begin. On your ‘fact check’, you have one paragraph that talks about victims and the next traffickers. talk about apples and oranges!!! Your statement about the ‘47%’ of victims are ‘sex trafficked’ include the Indian restaurant owner who sexually assaulted/killed women he imported to work in his place. It’s bad research for UC Berkeley to have included that case as an example of ‘sex trafficking’, or was it your bad journalism?

  17. In making these claims, proponents tend to use the terms “decriminalization” and “legalization” interchangeably, even though they are not comparable.

    Really? Where in the legislation is the word ‘legalization’?
    Did you even bother to read the legislation?

  18. did you read the article, MD? the phrase you criticize isn’t referring to the legislation, it’s referring to the proponents.

  19. Ron,

    I’m not that interested in your “technical” definition of decriminalization.

    I am interested in the issue of regulation because those who are opposed to Prop K have latched on to the issue, saying that there will be no regulation of prostitution if Prop K passes.

    That is NOT true. All businesses are regulated by the City. Even massage parlors that are currently engaged in illegal activity have to get a license, and are permitted, and zoned. They also pay taxes.

    Prop K will bring the sex industry above ground, and it will mean that sex workers will be covered by all of the various regulations that are a part of our system. That also includes labor regulations, which are very important to me.

  20. Another thing, Ron – you are wrong in your definition of legalization versus decriminalization. These terms AS GENERALLY USED in relation to prostitution may mean different things than they mean in other cases.

    New Zealand calls its legislation “Decriminalization.” Victoria, Australia calls its legislation “Legalization,” while New South Wales, Australia calls its legislation “Decriminalization.” Nevada calls its system “Legalization.”

    ALL FOUR of these various systems involve regulations. The difference is that “Legalization,” in both Nevada and Victoria, means that prostitution is ONLY legal inside brothels. Those that work outside of the brothel system are still criminalized.

    Decriminalization, as has commonly used by those who discuss the sex industry for the past several decades, means that Prostitutes are not required to work in brothels. Decriminalization means they can work independently, which many San Francisco sex workers prefer to do.

    To compare it to another industry – what if there was a law that said plumbers could only work for large companies, but they could not work for themselves? That would be what “Legalization” in this case essentially means.

    Decriminalization is the model that is advocated by both sex worker advocates and Public Health officials.

  21. I am deeply troubled at the thought of proposition K passing in San Francisco. It is extremely important that voters thoroughly consider the implications of this. The loopholes in this proposition will limit San Francisco’s ability to investigate and prosecute prostitution-related activities such as pimping, pandering and human trafficking. Even more alarming, proposition K will create a ‘policy’ against social service programs that help women and girls trapped in prostitution to escape. I am not only speaking as a San Franciscan and a woman, but I am also speaking as a former prostitute whose life was rescued by SAGE-one of the San Francisco social service programs that proposition K seeks to defund.
    I was introduced to SAGE while I was in the San Francisco County Jail. SAGE taught me how to become empowered, speak my voice and fight for opportunity in life. When you look at me today, you would never imagine that I was once sleeping on the streets, meeting up with ‘customers’ behind dumpsters, and doing everything in my power to avoid accepting my reality. I appear as the typical college student who is secure, confident and full of hope and promise for the future. I appear this way because that is who I am. Today I am very confident in my strengths and abilities, very secure in my identity as an empowered woman, and extremely driven to seek out a better future for myself and the community in which I live.
    There are hundreds of other women like me in San Francisco. You may not recognize us because we don’t walk around with a sign saying “I’m a former prostitute.” We have carved out new identities for ourselves. We have learned how to be healthy, happy human beings. We are now working hard to make this world a little better for ourselves and the next generation. Proposition K will eliminate any opportunity for other women and girls to receive the same help I did. It will benefit San Francisco tremendously to keep these programs in place and allow law enforcement to rid the streets of the pimps, traffickers and other perpetrators that prey on the most vulnerable among us. Please understand there is true potential there if you allow it to blossom. Please vote NO on K.

  22. prop k says that only the fopp will be cut, not sage. I’m sorry that you needed to be arrested first to change your life but that doesn’t mean the rest of us need to change our lives and therefore justify the police paying themselves time and a half to profit off the criminalization of our labor. You could have gone the SAGE project anytime. And passing prop k will not stop sage from promoting themselves inside the jail house either.

  23. No one can know exactly what will happen if Proposition K passes. On the issue of which term is which – decriminalization or legalization or regulation – these are very general, vague, messy terms. Perhaps it’s useful to think in stages. First, K might decriminalize acts now criminalized in the legal code. There would then be a period of adjustment and finding out what happens. Later there would be proposals for how to tweak the situation – some of those would probably be called regulation or legalization. They would happen in the local context. Speculating about how the New Zealand experience would or would not work in San Francisco strikes me as a waste of time – it’s a very different social and cultural context. As for the ‘trafficking’ issue, the different actors in this debate are using the term differently and so talking at cross-purposes. My guess is that if K passes there will be no great impact either way for migrants who sell sex in San Francisco. Some of them might benefit from not being criminalized per se, but being undocumented workers would remain their principle problem.

    What I like about K is the utopian aspect – the attempt to take Crime out of the picture for sex workers. It is certainly worth trying for this and then dealing with other repercussions once they can be known, as opposed to speculated about.

    For more such Border Thinking visit me at

    Best, Laura

  24. I am a SF resident in favor of proposition K. At the same time I oppose prostitution. How can that be? Personally, I think sex and love, just like society, the workplace etc. should be free i.e. I prefer a society where people don’t live under authoritarian rule or where their choices are limited to the ones pushed by people with power and privilege. In that sense, my argument goes beyond the arguments about the improvements seen in New Zealand or Amsterdam with the de-criminalization of prostitution, or the arguments of K-proponents about San Francisco’s money savings and the the increased safety for sex workers, or the arguments about the reduction of sexually transmitted disease and coerced police sex with prostitutes, or the argument about how prop. K will result in more pimp, rather than prostitute arrests.

    There are many studies showing how our perceptions of prostitution in the US are way off. For example, we never see them as women with a family to feed, and we incorrectly believe that a majority of them have pimps, are drug addicts, minors etc. I think these misperceptions are not an accident. Our competitive, hierarchical order erodes solidarity and we want to look down on prostitutes because of what prostitution reveals about ourselves. We don’t want to admit how much we have in common with them, so we exaggerate the differences.

    It’s true that for the money, prostitutes rent their bodies and take this to an extreme by selling one of our most intimate acts. Nevertheless, wikipedia describes wage slavery as “a coerced set of choices…a condition under which a person must sell his or her labor power, submitting to the authority of an employer in order to prosper or merely to subsist.” This, the article continues, implies among other things “the absence of unconditional access to non-exploitative property and a fair share of the basic necessities of life” and the absence of “non-hierarchical workers’ control of the workplace and the economy as a whole.”

    In other words, in the absence of such conditions, many people will become “wage slaves” who have to rent themselves– selling their smiles, time, bodies etc not only as blue collar workers, but also as

    “professionals [who] are trusted to run organisations in the interests of their employers. The key word is ’trust’. Because employers cannot be on hand to manage every decision, professionals are trained to ‘ensure that each and every detail of their work favours the right interests – or skewers the disfavoured ones’ in the absence of overt control. [Thus] “[t]he resulting professional is an obedient thinker, an intellectual property whom employers can trust to experiment, theorize, innovate and create safely within the confines of an assigned ideology.”

    In fact, in some ways prostitutes degrade themselves less than other wage slaves who get married for money or reshape their whole personality, intellect or behavior as an act of subordination to external power. And in sharp contrast with the alarmist attention to the problems of prostitution, pimps and measure K, there is very little attention paid to the consequences of such (legally protected) hierarchy of wage slavery and boss-rule, which results in unspeakable destruction and suffering (in fact, most of the evil in the world). Given that this destruction and suffering, and the underlying causes of prostitution are so closely related, perhaps there are ways to strive toward a solution with an approach that unites all of us wage slaves.

    By decriminalizing prostitution, we allow prostitutes to approach the same rights as other wage slaves–including the right to unionize and struggle toward a more decent future. In that more decent future, if it ever comes, I would love to write, as George Orwell did describing the anarchist-dominated streets of Barcelona, of how “in the streets were colored posters, appealing to prostitutes to stop being prostitutes.”

  25. San Francisco Voter Propositions for November ’08

    By Greg M. Schwartz, Public Press Editor’s Note This overview of the twenty-two propositions on San Francisco’s Nov. 4…

  26. The opponents of this proposition K are telling lies, and scare tactics to get people to vote against it. By lying and saying that all prostitutes are forced to do it against their will. Yet they can never find anyone who was a victim of this. Where are all these victims? Why aren’t they coming out and talking and showing themselves? It’s just a made up lie. It is very difficult to force anyone to do something against their will. They would need 24 hour guards, and be watched over like being in prison, with no chance to escape. Try getting someone to do something they don’t want to do and see how successful you are – you won’t be. Since this is a victimless crime, the opponents and racial feminists need to invent a victim in order to get support. They could have chosen the johns, the hookers or the city itself. They chose the hookers to be the victims even though it’s the hookers who want to decriminalize because they realize it’s the police, justice system and the government that hurts them, not the johns. Why is it that the ONLY people who are working for this to pass are the prostitutes themselves? Why would the victims themselves want this to pass? Maybe it is because they are victims of the police and justice system who abuse them and their customers. By the way, there is a federal law the says any foreigner who was a victim of prostitution in the USA if they go to the justice department and complain and help prosecute their pimp, then they can stay in the USA, get a green card and become a US citizen. So that means these women will then be encouraged to lie about it, in order to become citizens. So if you are a woman, just lie, pick a random guy to be your pimp and you can become a US citizen, and get money from the government. Easy – isn’t it?

  27. Proposition K. Having women make good money, sometimes even more than lawyers and doctors per hour elevates women. Woman know how to handle men in the bedroom. Women get men to pay lots of money for it. There are many jobs that you may consider demeaning, such as cleaning bathrooms, or putting up with bosses that put you down. While making minimum wage. Why don’t people talk about these low paying toilet cleaning jobs? You don’t think these jobs victimize women? How many unskilled women with no work experience and not much education can make hundreds, even thousands of dollars per hour? Would you rather have these women make five dollars per hour cleaning toilets? Prostitution if done correctly elevates women especially if they work for themselves.

  28. Yes, why don’t those victims come forward? I wonder. If you’ve ever seen the pro K people yelling in the street you might have your answer there. They are “aggressive” toward people who disagree with them.

    Not to mention the fact that pimps who threaten to kill you and your family don’t temporarily retract those threats just so you can give interviews on a local proposition.

    Prop K people want to pretend that all prostitution is high-end happy hooker prostitution, but that is in no way reflective of the reality of prostitution.

  29. Red, I am one of those pro K people you are talking about. I am generally not aggressive, and I generally don’t yell in the street. I’m no Pollyanna, but what you say is not true of most Prop K supporters.

    I also never pretended that all prostitution is all high-end happy hookers. That is one part of the industry. I do realize there are all kinds of hookers, some who have mainly good experiences, and some who have mainly bad experiences. Many hookers hate their job sometimes and love their job other times. All that is not really relevant when discussing whether or not they should be arrested.

    The point is that arresting people, regardless of whether they are happy in their job or not — arresting people does not help them. It only makes matters worse for people when they get arrested and get a criminal record.

    It also makes the whole industry more dangerous when people cannot get help if they are a victim of violence.