SF supervisor considers sanctioned red-light district amid ongoing sex trafficking problem

This is not the first time this idea has been considered in San Francisco.

BySuzanne Phan KGO logo
Thursday, February 9, 2023
SF supervisor pushes for sanctioned red-light district
A San Francisco supervisor is pitching the idea of a sanctioned red-light district in response to the sex trafficking problem in the Mission District.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In San Francisco, there is now a controversial proposal in response to the ongoing problem of sex trafficking in the Mission District near 21st and Capp streets.

One San Francisco supervisor is now pitching the idea of a sanctioned red-light district.

This is not the first time this idea has been considered in San Francisco.

EXCLUSIVE: SF residents say this street has turned into 'Las Vegas Strip' with alleged sex workers

"It's like every night pimps and prostitutes come and take our street hostage and neighbors are shut in." Here's what a group of San Francisco residents witness on a nightly basis.

In 2008, there was a ballot proposition to decriminalize prostitution. That prop failed but the idea is coming back. Some people in the Mission say the sex trafficking problem is the worst they've ever seen it.

Just across the street from where Bertie lives is a constant problem. Sex is for sale and he sees it.

"It is constant. It is pretty much every night. Sometimes in the morning, you still see them around -- sex workers soliciting," said Bertie.

The problem at 21st and Capp Street in the Mission has gotten worse. Residents at Bethany Center Senior Housing are afraid to go outside after 5 p.m. because of what they see, says manager Benson Lee.

"They are seeing people walk around with very little clothes," said Lee. "A lot of the time there's people having sex outside of their home. There are break-ins. It's gotten more rampant lately."

The sex trafficking problem across the region is so bad, ABC7 News reporters Luz Pena and Stephanie Sierra shone a spotlight on the issue and city leaders took notice.

MORE: Video showing alleged sex workers soliciting outside East Oakland school sparks call for action

Video showing alleged sex workers soliciting right outside St. Anthony's in East Oakland is raising concerns about human trafficking in the area.

"We feel that it has been very helpful. It has brought a lot of attention to the situation," said Santiago Lerma, legislative aid for Supervisor Hillary Ronen.

Many community leaders had to go out and see the problem for themselves.

"She's very concerned about the situation out there right now. The last two weekends, we've walked out at night with some of the neighbors last week, we also walked with Assistant Chief David lazar, who is also shocked at the magnitude of the situation," said Lerma.

Lerma says Supervisor Hillary Ronen is backing a plan to create a sanctioned red-light district.

"What we want to do is push our state legislature to legalize sex trade in California. This would allow localities to regulate the trade and keep people safe," said Lerma.

MORE: Oakland police, FBI take action to assess trafficking concerns near school after I-Team report

There is no specific proposal right now. No specific location targeted, says Supervisor Ronen's aide.

Even so, Bertie says any effort to improve the situation on his street in the Mission is needed. He supports the idea of a sanctioned red-light district.

"You have to be conscious, these are people who are trying to make it like everybody else," said Bertie. "They have healthcare. They have benefits. I think it's very smart to-do. I'd love to see that happening here. They are here everyday. Really working hard. It's only fair to give them the opportunity to work in a better environment," he said.

Benson Lee, on the other hand, isn't sure if a sanctioned red-light district is the way to go.

VIDEO: Sup. Ronen's aid talks about push for sanctioned red-light district in SF

Santiago Lerma, San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen's legislative aid, talks about the city's push for a sanctioned red-light district.

"Well, we have a problem. But I'm not so sure that's the solution," said Lee.

In the day or so, people will see a big push to curb sex trafficking on one street in the Mission District. Barricades -- these bright orange so-called water walls will be go up at 21st and Capp.

"They'll be located on the south side of each block so the block will be accessible on the north end to neighbors, but it will not be a through street so somebody entering from the south will not be able to exit from the other end," said Lerma.

In response to the barricades planned, SFPD released this statement: "The Department is aware of the issues of sex workers and the potential of human trafficking on Capp Street. The department is utilizing strategies to stop and disrupt the criminal activity, while being compassionate to those forced into the sex trafficking trade."

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live