Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Proposition to legalize prostitution strikes chord in San Francisco

By Elizabeth Pfeffer and Angela Hart

There may be truth to the cliché "sex sells," but when it comes to the sale of sex, everyone pays.

This is the central argument by both opponents and supporters of Proposition K, which would make San Francisco the first U.S. city to decriminalize prostitution.

Many sex workers say there's a cost to their line of work that goes beyond dollars and cents: Routinely exposing themselves to dangerous, sometimes violent situations, prostitutes are unable to seek the protection of the law without simultaneously exposing themselves to prosecution.


Yet the proposition's critics warn decriminalization of sex work could come at too high a price. Beyond the day-to-day protection of sex workers, they say it would draw pimps and traffickers to San Francisco like moths to a flame.

"I don't see any good coming from a law, which, if passed, would codify the exploitation of women and create a greater demand for human-trafficking victims," said Sharmin Eshraghi Bock, an Alameda County deputy district attorney who heads the Human Exploitation and Trafficking unit.


Not only would the proposition decriminalize prostitution, it would also prohibit law enforcement agencies from applying for or receiving federal and state money for programs that require compilation of racial information, a commonly used tactic in investigating human trafficking. These funds — more than $11 million, the city Budget Analyst's Office estimates — would be reallocated to programs that aim to reduce violence and discrimination against sex workers, under the proposal.


"This ballot measure reflects the myth that prostitution is a victimless crime. But the reality is this is a billion-dollar international industry of commercial sexual exploitation and child molestation," Harris said. "If passed, the measure would severely hamper the city's ability to investigate and prosecute human-trafficking cases."

City officials fear San Francisco will become a haven for human traffickers because of the provision that would prevent investigations based on racial profiling.

But the measure's proponents hope the proposal would create an even playing field for sex workers, who often say they are targeted by police based on their race, particularly Asians.

Read the full story here.

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