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Prostitution Laws in San Francisco and Sweden: Who Is Right?

Prostitution Laws in San Francisco and Sweden: Who Is Right?
By: Brenda Zurita - 8/22/2008

In 1999, Sweden passed a law prohibiting the purchase of sexual services but not the sale of them. The law also prohibits procuring, which means pimps and traffickers are arrested. Sweden believes that prostitution is a form of violence against women, and as such, they are going after the demand side of the equation and have been very successful. An absence of johns wanting to buy sex translates to no prostituted persons selling it.

In November 2008, the residents of San Francisco will vote on a different approach; they propose to decriminalize prostitution. The ballot measure states, “Law enforcement agencies shall not allocate any resources for the investigation and prosecution of prostitutes for prostitution.” It further says the funds should be reallocated to policies that reduce “institutional violence and discrimination against prostitutes.”

Sweden says prostitution is harmful to women, children, men and society, and as such, seeks to eradicate it in their country. They allocate their resources to arresting the johns, pimps and traffickers and providing access to employment programs, education, protection and support for prostituted persons so that they can leave that life.

San Francisco has a vocal and active contingent of “sex workers” (a term used by those who want to normalize prostitution and disguise the fact that exploitation and violence are an integral component of prostitution) who are pushing this measure. If the measure passes, it will essentially make San Francisco a welcoming gateway to the United States for pimps, traffickers and johns who think buying another human being is acceptable. The demand will increase, and traffickers will follow to make huge profits off of the demand through slavery.

Currently, when a john is arrested in San Francisco, he can opt to pay a fine and attend what is called the First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP). Part of the resources raised through these fines goes to support FOPP and to help prostituted women who have been freed from sexual exploitation. The program teaches johns the harmful and exploitative reality of prostitution, which in turn reduces the recidivism rates. The program has been very successful and is being duplicated throughout the United States.

The San Francisco ballot measure states, “The City and County of San Francisco shall not support either economically or through legislation the ‘First Offenders’ program or any similar intentioned program that forces sex workers into re-education programs.” The fact that the ballot measure totally misrepresents the purpose of the program is appalling, and the use of the term “re-education programs” is inflammatory. The writers of the ballot measure must consider the FOPP program to be quite successful since they went to the trouble of naming it specifically and to so distort its purpose.

Ironically, those pushing the ballot measure want the police to “practice consistent and rigorous enforcement against coercion, extortion, battery, rape and other violent crimes, regardless of the victim’s status as a sex worker.” So they want the police to enforce these laws, which they should because they are crimes, but they do not want the police to enforce the anti-prostitution laws on the books. They say nothing about enforcing the solicitation laws, but then, if they were enforced their johns would be arrested. So should the laws be enforced against johns and pimps that employ methods of coercion, extortion, battery and rape? Ah, but how do you tell who is a “good” john and who is a “bad” john?

And given the list of crimes they do want punished, which are associated with prostitution, doesn’t it seem to follow that prostitution is a dangerous job? How many librarians have to face coercion, extortion, battery, rape and other violent crimes every time they go to work?

Sweden recognizes that prostitution is not a job for anyone and that it is degrading and dehumanizing. San Franciscans, if the majority votes for this ballot measure, will endorse the idea through its government and law enforcement agencies that selling human bodies – women’s and children’s especially – as commodities is normal and acceptable. How is this measure good for women, children, the community or society at-large?

The findings section of the ballot measure emphatically states, “The police department has applied for and received additional federal monies in the form of federal grants to racially profile prostitutes for investigation and/or arrest under the guise of rescuing trafficked victims.” Which federal agency is promoting racial profiling? Which races are they targeting? Traffickers will supply victims according to demand, so if, for the sake of argument, San Franciscans preferred Vietnamese prostitutes, would the police department be guilty of racial profiling if they investigate Vietnamese prostitution rings?

Here’s a solution: forget racial profiling and do some gender profiling. Start with the men who are sexually exploiting women and children. When they are cleared out, move on to women who sexually exploit. This way there is no racial profiling, and cutting down the categories to male or female should make it more efficient.

San Francisco will be far better served if they throw this ballot measure out and start fresh. Perhaps they should study Sweden’s success?

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