In San Francisco and across the country prostitution remains illegal, with the exception of some rural Nevada counties. The Polaris Project, an anti-human trafficking organization, found that as many as a third of all massage businesses in San Francisco are advertising erotic services online. One of the massage businesses that the men were standing outside of in late was Queens Health Center. In , the San Francisco Department of Public Health cited almost a dozen massage businesses in the city for lewd conduct following unannounced health inspections.
Queens Health Center is just one of hundreds of massage businesses statewide suspected of offering clients everything from happy endings to full-on sex. Protecting Sex Workers Carol Leigh is a San Francisco-based sex worker and filmmaker, and a strong advocate for the legitimization and legalization of sex work.
Leigh argues that criminalization of sex work makes the job more dangerous; assailants know that they can get away with violence when they enter an illegal, underground establishment. Sex workers across the country maintain that the criminalization of sex work emboldens assailants and silences victims, and say this needs to change. She said she never reported the incident to police, largely because she feared the business she was working at would be shut down and she would lose her job.
Bay Area Sex Scandal The world of sex work — and its interaction with the law — is largely invisible. Jasmine Abuslin, who used the alias Celeste Guap while working as a prostitute, claims to have had sexual relations with as many as 30 officers from six Bay Area law enforcement agencies, including San Francisco and Oakland. In , the sexual misconduct allegations came to light and Abuslin, now 19, described being exploited by law enforcement officers for years, beginning when she was a minor.
Louis, Missouri have been accused of similar allegations and an internal affairs investigation has been launched into that alleged misconduct. Her group hopes to change the law and ensure that sex workers can report police misconduct without negative repercussions.
James Infirmary, of female sex workers interviewed in San Francisco, 21 percent reported having police officers as paying customers while 14 percent reported being threatened with arrest unless they have sex with a police officer. Five percent reported being arrested for not having sex with a police officer while eight percent reported being arrested after having sex with a police officer.
Creating an environment where sex workers in peril can turn to law enforcement will likely become more important as websites such as Sugar Daddie and SeekingArrangements continue to increase in popularity. Bills paid, gifts galore, and top-shelf fun. More often than not, she said, law enforcement officials do not sufficiently respond to reports of assault made by sex workers and allow perpetrators to remain free.
Changing Landscape Sex workers in San Francisco are not new to advocating for their rights. The sex workers of argued that it was their body and their choice, and that lawmakers and those who looked down on sex work should instead focus their energies on improving the economic and societal situations that lead women into the profession.
A liquor store now dominates the intersection. Banner at the Tenderloin Museum on January 25, Hannah Albarazi As much as the neighborhood has changed drastically in years, so have many aspects of the sex work industry. Today, some sex workers tout their services online. They work in hotels and massage parlors rather than the brothels of yore. Others work under pimps and still take to the streets.
Despite the changes in scenery and marketing, the fact remains that there are few, if any, rights for sex workers, even years after that historic march. Many sex workers believe that the decriminalization of sex work would lead to a better relationship with law enforcement. Some are happily married and see themselves as erotic therapists. Leigh said criminalization means sex workers have a tough time planning for retirement. She said while it is not impossible, it is very difficult to pay into Social Security when you work at an underground establishment.
Sex workers demand law enforcement focus their efforts on sex crimes and human trafficking. Sex Work At the rally, as if on cue, a car full of men approached the intersection, rolled down the car window and asked the group what their cause was.
One sex work advocate rolled her eyes and said it is a common response from people who confuse sex work with sex trafficking. Sex workers say lawmakers and the public do not always differentiate between sex trafficking which is forced and sex work which is chosen.
In San Francisco, illicit massage businesses are considered a hotbed for sex trafficking. The task force states that the policy would be groundbreaking and they hope to finalize it soon. In , no such policy yet exists. Shrouded In Taboo Almost a decade ago, a San Francisco initiative to decriminalize sex work failed at the ballot. Senator — opposed the initiative in But sex workers who choose to work in the industry say criminalization is inhumane.
California legislators are indeed reluctant to express their policy views surrounding sex work. In fact, given weeks to respond, no members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors were willing to comment on the issue. Andraychak said that while sex in exchange for money is a crime in San Francisco, the department believes the policy will stress the referral of all victims of crimes, including sex workers, to victim advocates and community organizations.
During the course of an investigation or potential arrest, law enforcement may not engage in any type of sexual act with a sex worker. The policy discussion has come to a standstill. While sex workers in San Francisco wait for an amnesty policy to be established, in other countries and in other states legislators have charted a path forward. Nevada allows prostitution in government-regulated brothels in sparsely-populated counties; in Hawaii a bill to decriminalize prostitution was introduced earlier this year.
New Zealand decriminalized sex work back in and requires members of the sex work industry be part of the oversight committee that creates and amends the laws governing their profession. Some European countries have fully decriminalized the industry while other European countries have implemented the Nordic model, in which selling sex is decriminalized but buying sex remains criminalized.
The results, like the policies, are varied. A new study found that rape has decreased in Dutch cities where it is legal to sell sex. Sex workers in the Bay Area and across the country are trying to get their legislators to comprehend the high demand for prostitution and recognize it as the result of a society with an enduring desire to pay for sex. Safety First A century ago, the American Medical Association supported full criminalization of sex work as a way to mitigate the spread of venereal diseases.
Today, the association appears to be rethinking its stance. But in San Francisco, the Department of Public Health continues to do inspections of massage businesses in hopes of finding sex trafficking victims. Many of the citations issued for lewd acts have resulted in San Francisco massage businesses being given suspensions and then reopening under a new name, in the same location.
You can visit it at the same address. If you or someone you know is a victim of trafficking, California counties — including San Francisco — offer various services, which can be found here. Those wishing to report trafficking can contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
By Hannah Albarazi — Follow her on Twitter: