So I know it’s been a while since I’ve written one of these. The St James Infirmary Outreach team and I have basically been fighting wars on several fronts. And I finally feel the dire need to make a statement about it.
In 2018, a set of federal laws called FOSTA/SESTA passed which essentially held Internet sites responsible for content they didn’t create while hyper criminalizing any sexual content on the Internet. So this caused many sex workers to either return to or seek out for the first time Street-based Sex Work. So no more ability to screen clients, more safely negotiate terms, advertise or work more privately. Even friendship and other human connections could be criminalized.
2018 was the same year I got to start the van outreach program with St James Infirmary and the naughty nurse mobile. Right after FOSTA/SESTA passed the street population of sex workers tripled which myself and our outreach team were able to witness and track. We also heard firsthand the stories of what our community was going through while doing our best to support many people through trauma on many fronts.
The Neighbors on those strolls in the mission reacted with anger and retaliation by partnering with the police to order them to “eliminate sex workers”.
The police did indeed greatly increase harassment and intimidation of the sex workers which I witnessed many times, and heard many more first hand accounts.
2020 brought COVID-19, which of course was an absolute living nightmare for sex workers, especially street-based and many other marginalized communities. Sheltering in place, with no financial assistance afforded to many other jobs is impossible, and working in close contact with people during a deadly global pandemic is incredibly dangerous. Extreme poverty was out of control. We did our best to support sex workers in their homes as well as out on the streets when folks had to make the difficult decision to risk exposure.
I’ve watched these past few years the ups and downs of the cruel whims of those with more privilege and power, and no compassion. Street-based sex workers are so vulnerable and badass and beautiful. Street-based sex workers deserve respect, support and to be heard just like we all do but so few of us actually get.
On Monday, February 6 I got a call from Supervisor Hillary Ronan notifying me that they were going to be putting up barricades on Capp Street which were described as plastic filled with water. We talked a bit about the situation on Capp Street, and the possibility of allowing for a more hands off approach by the police if Sex Work were to move over to a nearby street.
There was an absolute media frenzy for about two weeks with mostly the voices of neighbors and legislators.
So the barricades are in fact, large cement walls, about three or 4 feet high. They’re placed haphazardly, covered in graffiti, and definitely add to the look of a war zone, which it basically is. I would not feel safe living on that block more for fear of an ambulance or firefighters not being able to get to me or my loved ones fast enough than because of some girls and young women conducting business near my home in the middle of the night.
These past few weeks, my team and I have gotten first-hand reports of so much harassment and intimidation. We’ve gotten reports of tight police surveillance, harassment, following, checking IDs, taking down license plate numbers and several police at a time aggressively approaching girls and calling them names and giving tickets for “loitering”. SB357 was signed into law by Governor Newsom and went into effect in January 2023 to retract loitering with intent to commit prostitution laws in California. Clearly that is not being respected.
I wish I had good news to report to you all but honestly this is war being waged on sex workers. And we are not the only ones. Sex Work is intersectional like everything and those facing the harshest challenges are those already marginalized by racism, transphobia, poverty, sexism and whorephobia.
When I read headlines like “Board considers $27.6M police overtime proposal” I find it so frustrating as we are struggling to afford basic supplies and necessities. Those of us doing the front line work and actually supporting our communities get such a tiny slice of that pie.
What we really need is to be heard and respected, money and decriminalization. I don’t know who will read this but more support needs to go to where it’s actually needed by the people who need it most. Let’s not lose compassion or hope. And let’s lift up these voices and stories until people have what they need.
In the fight,
The SJI Outreach Team and
The Naughty Nurse Mobile