Sex workers take a stand on Measure K

October 22, 2008 7:06:44 PM PDT
On November 4th, San Francisco voters will decide if they want to become the first major U.S. city to decriminalize prostitution. It's an issue that's drawing national attention and testing the city's reputation for tolerance.

Measure K on the November ballot would decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco by preventing police from investigating, arresting and prosecuting those who sell sex.

"T" was a prostitute in the Mission neighborhood for years. In fact, she just got off the street a few months ago. She now lives at Safe House, a residence for women with the resources that help them turn their lives around.

"T" is adamantly opposed to Measure K.

"My biggest concern is it will create more violence on prostitutes than anything else. Other Johns will come into the city because they know they won't be prosecuted. They'll be more violent to the girls out there," said "T."

But Measure K supporters believe prostitutes will feel more protected by police.

"Prop k calls on the police to enforce the laws against violence, coercion, rape and other areas against sex workers, so it means sex workers will be safer," said Rachel West from U.S. Prostitutes' Collective.

She and other supporters helped collect the more than 7,000 signatures necessary to put the measure on the ballot. It's supported by the local Democratic Party and the National Lawyers Guild of San Francisco, among others.

San Francisco's district attorney is opposed to Measure K. She says prostitution is not a victimless crime. She and other critics believe it will make San Francisco a magnet.

"It will put out a welcome mat for people around the bay, pimps and prostitutes, that this is an open market come to San Francisco," said San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris.

Measure K supporters say it's a matter of basic human rights. Patricia West is a call-girl who also sees a public health component.

"I find a lot of times women will not accept condoms and other things like that because they can be used as evidence and probable cause for arrest. It's a real public health based issue," said West.

She won't convince "T," who is grateful to be out of the life. The rest of San Francisco weighs in November 4th.


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