S.F. Voters to Decide on Decriminalizing Prostitution

Proposition K, on the San Francisco ballot in November, would decriminalize prostitution. The L.A. Times reports it is dividing the city's liberal community.

Sex workers, the county Democratic committee and a health official support Proposition K as a boon to prostitutes' and the public's safety. The mayor, the D.A. and the business community oppose it.

....Proposition K would ban San Francisco police from using any public resources to investigate or prosecute sex workers on prostitution charges. Critics say the law would attract pimps, human smugglers and others who profit from the sex trade.

I'm in favor of decriminalization.

Proposition K, which would shift the city's focus from prosecuting prostitution to pursuing those who prey on sex workers and increasing public health outreach. The goal, [proponent Patricia]West says, is to reduce violence against women and improve the health of sex workers and their clients.

"It's a morally based, antiquated law," she said. "Decriminalize prostitution and you bring it out of the underground and off the black market. That way you can start organizing, clean up the dangerous elements. Sex workers want safe streets like everyone else."

11 Nevada counties and the state of Rhode Island have similar laws. As for those who argue it would increase STD's, the evidence elsewhere is to the contrary:

The city's Erotic Service Provider's Union, which spearheaded the initiative, argues that in countries such as the Netherlands, New Zealand and Thailand, where payment for sex is allowed, sex workers are more likely to use condoms and have lower rates of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

San Francisco D.A. Kamala Harris argues:

"Prostitution is not a victimless crime," said Harris, the district attorney. "It's a crime that victimizes neighborhoods and plagues communities and compromises the quality of life of the people who live in those neighborhoods. This measure would prohibit us from putting public resources into helping those residents. And that's not acceptable in this community."

Shades of the broken windows "quality of life" theory of policing. No thank you, Ms. Harris.

This strikes me as similar to the initiative that passed in Denver that makes pot smoking the lowest law enforcement priority. It's not legalization, it's removing the criminal penalty. We don't need to be jailing sex workers, only those that physically abuse them.

Nor should we be spending our limited criminal justice resources on prosecuting them. Even for those who are not jailed, there are costs incurred with supervising them on probation. A portion of the cops' salaries is spent making the bust, writing up the reports and appearing in court as witnesses.

It's also contrary to the public interest to saddle the sex workers with a criminal record, thereby hindering their ability to switch to more societally acceptable jobs to support themselves.

Legalization would have additional problems and create more government bureaucracy. The solution in my view, whether it's pot smoking, prostitution or abortion, is simple: Keep your laws off our bodies. Adults should have the right to make their own decisions.

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    That is all well and good (none / 0) (#1)
    by caseyOR on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 12:40:08 AM EST
    but what about the neighborhoods? Prostitution is a big problem in some neighborhoods here in Portland. Schoolgirls propositioned on the way home from school. Condoms and needles littering people's yards and school playgrounds. It is not as simple as you make it sound.

    Many interests come into play. And I would hesitate to mock those who are concerned about what you call the broken windows "quality of life" theory of

    schoolgirls are minors (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 12:56:32 AM EST
    and would not be affected by the law. The law only says the arrest of adult sex workers would be the lowest law enforcement priority. Those who entice  children would still be prosecuted under the more serious crime of soliciting a minor or pimping.

    As for your littering problems, that's no reason to jail someone. The streets and playgrounds are probably also littered with cigarette butts.

    Giuliani time policing -- arresting loiterers, litterers, turnstile jumpers and squeegye washers -- usually ends up with the poor and homeless being jailed to make the rest of society feel their lives are ordered and safe.


    I am not talking (none / 0) (#5)
    by caseyOR on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:08:24 AM EST
    about Guiliani policing. My comments concern the very real damage prostitution causes to a neighborhood. I agree that arrests for sqeegee washers, turnstile jumpers, etc. often fall on the poor and the homeless, and are wrong. Prostitution is different.

    Would you have wanted to raise the TL kid in a neighborhood beset by prostitution? Would you have been okay with your son picking up needles and condoms in the front yard? Would you have been unfazed by men cruising your street at all hours looking for a little action and then having sex in the car in front of your house, in front of your young son? And condoms and needles are a bit more serious than cigarette butts on the playground.

    Maybe I missed it, but I don't see anything in the proposed SF law that would, for instance, confine decriminalized prostitution to a particular area of the city, maybe one far from neighborhoods and families. That would make some sense to me.


    can't speak for Jeralyn (none / 0) (#16)
    by manish on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:37:31 AM EST
    Would you have wanted to raise the TL kid in a neighborhood beset by prostitution? Would you have been okay with your son picking up needles and condoms in the front yard? Would you have been unfazed by men cruising your street at all hours looking for a little action and then having sex in the car in front of your house, in front of your young son

    I can't speak for Jeralyn, but I wouldn't want any of those things...but then, my neighborhood has a lot of other things both legal and illegal that I'm not so fond of.  I live in San Francisco..my neighborhood includes a location owned by a sex video company that shoots porn onsite (though they have been much better neighbors than I had thought they would be), it occasionally has drug paraphernalia, homeless, litter, etc. Not that my neighborhood is a bad place..I would never live anywhere else, but its not all daisy's and roses.


    Not really a problem (none / 0) (#7)
    by s5 on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:10:50 AM EST
    Like any city, I'm sure that legal brothels would be subject to zoning regulations. You can't open a car repair shop in certain neighborhoods either.

    That said, the neighborhoods in SF where you'd go for a "massage" (the closest thing we have now to legal brothels) aren't where the kids and families are. I doubt that will change. Or, you'd see independent prostitutes working out of their homes with a regular client list. If they could work legally and safely out of their homes, why would they need to go to weird places like schoolyards and back alleys?

    Here's the thing about SF. That's what already happens now. Legalizing prostitution would bring the activities indoors, rather than on the streets where they are now.


    Make it legal (none / 0) (#3)
    by TomStewart on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 12:56:34 AM EST
    And then tax it and regulate it. Set standards, and areas where it can be praticed.

    I signed the petition (none / 0) (#4)
    by s5 on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:03:45 AM EST
    This kind of ballot measure is what makes me proud to live in SF. Having spent a lot of time in Auckland, NZ and Melbourne, AU, I've witnessed how a regulated system of prostitution can benefit a city. The end result is safer for everyone, and drives the shady elements out of the market. Prostitution becomes a legal service like any other, like hiring a plumber or getting your haircut, rather than a magnet for crime.

    Coincidentally, I just watched The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas last night. It's funny how well it holds up, and how the issues and the arguments are still with us today.

    Two concenting adults (none / 0) (#6)
    by koshembos on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:10:25 AM EST
    The current laws, prohibiting prostitution, are left over of morality laws that let the government have anti sodomy laws, etc.

    Decriminalizing prostitution recognizes a widely practice and damageless activity.

    Another point against Kamala Harris (none / 0) (#8)
    by s5 on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:13:50 AM EST
    SF is currently in the middle of a sharp uptick in gang related violence and shootings. If she plans to spend a second of her time chasing after prostitutes instead of figuring out smart ways to deal with gang violence, then I will gladly vote her out of office. She should consider this proposition to be part of a job security package.

    Kamala does not chase sex workers (none / 0) (#20)
    by Prabhata on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 02:23:39 AM EST
    I understand that prostitution in the city is a misdemeanor, and therefore the DA does not actively go after the sex workers unless there is a complaint.  The city already has problems with prostitution business in residential areas, and I don't want the city to make it more attractive for sex workers and their customers.

    Maybe in SF, not in Peoria. Or even Boston. (none / 0) (#9)
    by SomewhatChunky on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:14:08 AM EST

    If liberals and democrats somehow become identified as the party that supports legalized prostitution, the party will never ever win another national election in the United States.

    Peoria is my hometime (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by caseyOR on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:17:07 AM EST
    and has a long and storied brothel history. In fact, the incomparable Richard Pryor grew up in his grandmother's brothel in Peoria. Of course, the current city fathers don't really talk about that.

    And I live In Nevada (none / 0) (#11)
    by SomewhatChunky on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:20:59 AM EST
    Where it is legal in several counties where nobody lives.    

    A relic of the old mining days.  But NOT in any population centers where there are families and voters.  Not legal in Reno, Tahoe, or Vegas.  Wonder why that is.


    not legal doesn't mean not happening (none / 0) (#12)
    by s5 on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:26:17 AM EST
    Prostitution is everywhere in Las Vegas. You can't walk a block without getting a dozen of those call girl cards shoved in your hands. Oh wait, I forgot, those girls are "dancers".

    Lots of Illegal activities happen everywhere (none / 0) (#13)
    by SomewhatChunky on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:30:21 AM EST
    Prostitution is one. Just like any middle school or high school kid can buy drugs.

    I'm not saying legalizing it is wrong.

    My point is that it would be deadly politically for the party to become identified with this.  Kiss 100% of those swing states goodbye.


    They aren't just girls (none / 0) (#14)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:30:39 AM EST
    Both sexes engage in paid sexual activities. And sex workers are not all streetwalkers.

    Agreed Jeralyn (none / 0) (#15)
    by s5 on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:34:06 AM EST
    I was just challenging the implied assertion that Vegas is free of prostitution because families and people live there, and didn't choose to legalize it like the other counties did.

    Though, in my experience of visiting Vegas, I have only ever seen flyers for female prostitutes, never male. Of course in San Francisco, I see advertising for both.


    What is the role of California State law? (none / 0) (#17)
    by jerry on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 01:41:09 AM EST
    I have the impression that in Nevada, State law makes prostitution legal, and it's left up to each county (or city?) to criminalize it or not.  What is California's law, and what role would it play if Sacramento decided it was to remain illegal?

    (There are many interesting blogs written by sex workers, I find Renegade Evolution interesting in how the discussions there are often about the various discussions between various feminists regarding prostitution, and what that says about how various movements within feminism regard sexuality, and the rationality and agency of women and men.  (Renegade Evolution occasionally guest blogs at feministe.))

    All of this, of course, reminds me of George Carlin's position on prostitution.  I won't state it straight out.  We all know what he said, and we can all chuckle to ourselves sardonically as we are reminded of it once more.

    California Penal Code section (none / 0) (#19)
    by oculus on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 02:20:19 AM EST
    647, subdivision (b):  

        Every person who commits any of the following acts is guilty
    of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor:

         . . .

         (b) Who solicits or who agrees to engage in or who engages in any act of prostitution. A person agrees to engage in an act of prostitution when, with specific intent to so engage, he or she manifests an acceptance of an offer or solicitation to so engage,regardless of whether the offer or solicitation was made by a person who also possessed the specific intent to engage in prostitution. No agreement to engage in an act of prostitution shall constitute a violation of this subdivision unless some act, in addition to the agreement, is done within this state in furtherance of the commission of an act of prostitution by the person agreeing to engage in that act. As used in this subdivision, "prostitution" includes any lewd
    act between persons for money or other consideration.

    Thanks for posting that (none / 0) (#21)
    by jerry on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 04:53:56 AM EST
    I wonder if it is as obtuse and circular as it seems because a) I'm a layman, b) they didn't want to describe the naughty bits, c) they were taking care to allow cops to post as prostitutes or johns, d) it's fun and more artistic to write laws no one can understand.

    I'm for decriminalizing but not with Prop K (none / 0) (#18)
    by Prabhata on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 02:10:05 AM EST
    I will be supporting our DA and Newsom with a big "NO".  I don't want San Francisco to become a haven for prostitution.

    Right now, I would support decriminalization with a state proposition that keeps the sex workers within the confines of gambling areas.  In addition, there would need to be oversight to ensure proper health care for the customers and the sex workers.

    Why link sex work to gambling? (none / 0) (#22)
    by jerry on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 04:56:01 AM EST
    I am not sure I see the connection between sex work and gambling areas.  I would tend to suspect that colocating the two industries would lead to more alcohol induced violence.

    The connection is already there.... (none / 0) (#26)
    by kdog on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 02:31:06 PM EST
    ever spent any time in a casino?  

    A => B does not mean that B => A. (none / 0) (#29)
    by jerry on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 02:58:50 PM EST
    Prahabta was arguing that sex work should be done within the confines of gambling centers.

    Just because some sex work occurs with gambling, doesn't mean that all sex works occurs with gambling.

    Since gambling is illegal in most areas of the country, and prostitution occurs pretty much everywhere, it seems easy to believe that sex work is mostly not associated with gambling centers.


    Of course... (none / 0) (#30)
    by kdog on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 03:07:40 PM EST
    sex work is everywhere, gambling is everywhere, illegal drugs are everywhere...and they are also in the same places.  Vice tends to congregate, form whatever reason.  That's why illegal bookies traditionally work out of bars, and prostitutes are found in every casino.

    From your comment I thought you didn't want an association to form between prostitution and gambling...my only point was too late for that.  Prostitution and gambling have been associated for quite sometime...probably because at various times both vices have been criminalized.  Criminalization loves company:)


    I'm on the No side (none / 0) (#23)
    by WS on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 08:30:39 AM EST
    Can't law enforcement focus on the pimps and the smugglers without having to decriminilize prostitution?  Put sex workers on the low priority prosecution list and go after the bigger people?    

    "It's a morally based, antiquated law," (none / 0) (#24)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 12:49:35 PM EST
    Interesting concept - is not murder immoral? Rape? Theft? etc.

    All laws have some basis.... (none / 0) (#25)
    by kdog on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 02:25:26 PM EST
    in morality...it is just that some are tyrannical and some aren't.

    I'd file prostitution laws under tyranny...like the old joke goes, how could it be illegal to charge for something that is perfectly legal to give away for free?


    No arguments. (none / 0) (#27)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 02:36:44 PM EST
    Aren't all our laws, essentially, whether tyrannical or not, based on morality?

    Good question.... (none / 0) (#28)
    by kdog on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 02:55:35 PM EST
    If not all, then the vast majority....I can't think of any that aren't, off the top of the dome...wait, maybe jaywalking?  I don't think you could call it immoral to cross outside the crosswalk.

    The big criminal laws probably all come from past moral codes, the little misdemeanor stuff, such as jaywalking, out of perceived necessity for public safety.  Not many victimless crimes appear to stem from a moral code, prostitution is one of the few there...and drug prohibition.


    No arguments from me, (none / 0) (#31)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 03:50:57 PM EST
    I don't have the energy to debate victim/less crimes today! :)