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Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, October 23, 2008

San Francisco to Vote on Decriminalization of Prostitution

In this live-and-let-live town, where medical marijuana clubs do business next to grocery stores and an annual fair celebrates sadomasochism, prostitutes could soon walk the streets without fear of arrest.

San Francisco would become the first major U.S. city to decriminalize prostitution if voters next month approve Proposition K — a measure that forbids local authorities from investigating, arresting or prosecuting anyone for selling sex.

The ballot question technically would not legalize prostitution since state law still prohibits it, but the measure would eliminate the power of local law enforcement officials to go after prostitutes.

Proponents say the measure will free up $11 million the police spend each year arresting prostitutes and allow them to form collectives.

"It will allow workers to organize for our rights and for our safety," said Patricia West, 22, who said she has been selling sex for about a year by placing ads on the Internet. She moved to San Francisco in May from Texas to work on Proposition K.

Even in tolerant San Francisco — where the sadomasochism fair draws thousands of tourists and a pornographic video company is housed in a former armory — the measure faces an uphill battle, with much of the political establishment opposing it.

Some form of prostitution is already legal in two states. Brothels are allowed in rural counties in Nevada. And Rhode Island permits the sale of sex behind closed doors between consenting adults, but it prohibits street prostitution and brothels.

In 2004, almost two-thirds of voters in nearby Berkeley rejected decriminalization. But proponents of Proposition K say their proposal has a better shot in San Francisco, which they believe is more sexually liberal than the city across the bay.

After all, the world's oldest profession has long been established here. During the Gold Rush, the neighborhood closest to the piers was a seedy pleasure center of sex, gambling and drinking known as the Barbary Coast.

These days, on certain corners, prostitutes sell their bodies day and night, ducking into doorways and alleys when police pass by. One recent afternoon in the Mission District, six prostitutes were plying their trade on a single block.

Police made 1,583 prostitution arrests in 2007 and expect to make a similar number this year. But the district attorney's office says most defendants are fined, placed in diversion programs or both. Fewer than 5 percent get prosecuted for solicitation, which is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

Proposition K has been endorsed by the local Democratic Party. But the mayor, district attorney, police department and much of the business community oppose the idea, contending it would increase street prostitution, allow pimps the run of neighborhoods and hamper the fight against sex trafficking, which would remain illegal because it involves forcing people into the sex trade.

The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized against the measure, saying it could make the city a magnet for prostitution.

Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]

Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, Law Enforcement, Sex | Permalink

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And naturally the 9th Circuit will be there to support any challenges to the law.

Posted by: Nutty 9th | Oct 25, 2008 11:40:14 AM

yes, though i prefer sex with my wife :) i believe it is a good move anyway.
PDs are spending way too much $$$ while getting involved with this type of "crime".

i mean, come on, selling sex has been here since ancient times, it's not gonna disappear ever.
after making prostitution legal and grouping these workers into unions we might just see a decline within certain crime-heavy areas, imho.

Posted by: livejasmin | Oct 29, 2008 9:15:17 AM

The police are wasting their time by prosecuting these "women of the night". More and more women are allowed and encouraged to stand strong in their sexuality, for those who want to sell it, then so be it. If pornography is legal, the only difference between porn and prostitution is a camera. Porn stars are paid a pretty penny to sleep with consenting men and woman. There were "1,583 prostitution arrests" in one year in one city?!?! That's ridiculous. As this country is entering a financial recession, not only will less people be spending money on sex, the money of our law enforcement should be budgeted more effectively. I suppose we could just continue spending “$11 million” a year, and pull it from domestic abuse or, missing persons funding. Prostitution as a crime is a crime. Those who choose to sell themselves (because not all prostitutes are women) are not harming anyone but possibly themselves. Cigarette companies sell death sticks every day but people who provide nothing but pleasure are charged with a crime. The harm that could fall upon the prostitute is a career risk factor he or she chooses to take. A constructor knows they could be crushed to death but still goes to work. Those prostitutes who are arrested can be thrown in jail for up to six months. There are murderers and rapists on the street while otherwise law abiding sexual opportunists are sitting in the slammer.

Posted by: Comp Student | Jan 6, 2009 5:10:49 AM

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