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."

Luz Pena Image
Friday, February 3, 2023
EXCLUSIVE: This SF street has become a hotspot for 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.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A group of San Francisco residents is pleading for city officials to intervene after an uptick of alleged sex workers in their neighborhood.

Many are reporting gunshots, fights, and alleged prostitution keeping the neighborhood up. ABC7 News reporter Luz Pena spoke to SFPD on what they are doing to tackle this issue.

"It is Friday, January 27 on Capp Street. It's about 11:30 p.m. Two girls on the intersection," narrated a San Francisco resident while recording alleged sex workers outside her home.

In almost every driveway, presumed sex workers can be seen in the video on San Francisco's Capp Street.

"There's another girl there. Two more there. Six right there and I can see another two right there," narrated the resident.

"We have a sanctioned red-light district on Capp Street," said Cristina a resident who lives on Capp Street.

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"We see women walking down the middle of the streets pretty much naked. The line of bumper-to-bumper cars all towards 3 o'clock in the morning. It looks like the Las Vegas Strip," said Paula who lives on Capp Street.

Fed up with what they say is a lack of action by city officials and SFPD, five residents agreed to share their stories. They fear for their lives and asked to remain anonymous.

"I'm scared. I'm scared of the pimps," said Cristina.

"I know a lot of women are not there voluntarily. Since Shotwell got closed because of slow streets it seems like everyone who used to work there all came to our block," said Hyona.

"There are nights where it seems like it just explodes," said Mark. "There's been lot of nights when I come back late at night and keep count. 25-30 between here and 16th."

Their network includes about 50 neighbors now. From 19th to 22nd streets they document at night and call 911. They say it's gotten worse in the last five months.

Luz Pena: "Do you think that it's going to get to the point that residents are going to do more than call 911?"

Paula: "There is complete lawlessness on Capp and we are left to fend for ourselves. So yeah. I think that if the city doesn't step in residents are going to but that is going to be a very dangerous situation when you have peaceful residents and armed pimps."

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Ana has two kids and says she struggles to explain to them what happens outside their home.

"I try to do it in the most age-appropriate way to my 11-year-old, saying this is unacceptable. These are the consequences of bad situations for people. It's a consequence of bad governance from the city but it's not okay," said Ana. "And then I say we are trying to do something. The neighbors are trying to do something so that he knows that you can't just let it be."

She says an environment of crime led to them getting burglarized recently.

"We locked ourselves in my son's closet and called the police. Sixteen minutes later they finally showed up and somebody had gone in to steal things from our house," said Ana.

After looking at her surveillance cameras she noticed two people having sex outside her home.

"There were people having sex on the stairs going up to my front door around the same time of this. So it's not that the prostitutes are breaking into houses. It's the environment that this creates, it's awful. Like you can do anything you want on Capp because no one is going to do anything about it," said Ana.

SFPD's Mission Station Captain M. Gavin McEachern said they've made multiple arrests on the alleged sex work activity, but are limited on what they can do. Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a state law from San Francisco lawmaker Scott Weiner decriminalizing loitering that appears to be sex work.

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"We've made a lot of traffic enforcement out there in an effort to address the Johns, the customers that are coming in to the district," said Captain McEachern. "Unfortunately there have been some recent legislation that has been passed by our state senator which has now made loitering for the purpose of prostitution no longer a criminal offense. So our hands have been tied."

Supervisor Hillary Ronen visited Capp Street last Friday night and is now making this her top priority.

"I just had never seen the situation so dangerous and so out of control," said Supervisor Ronen.

Supervisor Ronen says she would like San Francisco to legalize sex work in designated areas in the future. In the meantime, she plans to take action.

"Next week we are going to put up barricades on Capp Street between 22nd and 18th street. It will close off the street through traffic but the neighbors who live on the street will be able to get in through the street," said Supervisor Ronen. "The motorcycle unit of the SFPD will be out doing traffic violations."

For now, these residents say they are trapped inside their homes until something changes.

"It's like every night pimps and prostitutes come and take our street hostage and neighbors are shut in," said Paula.

Regarding alleged sex workers on Capp Street, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins sent a statement:

"Since taking office, I have been in direct communication with neighbors, including visiting Capp Street at night, to better understand their concerns and determine how my office can be helpful in addressing the prostitution and human trafficking concerns, while working to support victims. We continue to be proactive in helping law enforcement to craft enforcement operations to deter and disrupt this activity while holding traffickers accountable.

Currently, citations for solicitation are referred to our neighborhood courts for adjudication. Johns referred to neighborhood court are expected to abide by the agreements they make with community members including going to John school and pledging to not repeat their behavior. 14 Johns have been referred to neighborhood court. We also do everything we can to help rescue victims from traffickers. We are prepared to prosecute any pimping or human tracking case and traffickers where there is sufficient evidence for us to move forward."

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