Public Response to SF Supervisor's Statement on Sex Work:
Bay Area sex workers and advocates appreciate San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen for acknowledging the challenges that those in the sex trade face and initiating policy about these issues.
In this letter, we ask for further collaboration and hope to provide context to improve the safety and well-being of sex workers in the Bay Area. We hope this can serve as a powerful starting point for productive discussions and concrete steps toward a more inclusive and flourishing Bay Area where policy is informed by empirical evidence and the voices of those who are most impacted.
Our Three Asks:
Decriminalize sex work instead of legalizing it, as punitive approaches have proven ineffective and violent.
Increase support of peer-led resources and services for Bay Area sex workers.
Collaborate with local sex workers, survivors, and community advocates to develop policies and programs prioritizing the safety and well-being of the sex worker community.
We welcome Ronen's collaboration across the Bay with Oakland City Council member Nikki Fortunado Bass to establish more "comprehensive resources and services to sex workers." Increasing culturally humble outreach and services is essential to community safety. When creating programs and policies for Bay Area sex workers, we invite San Francisco and Oakland cities to partner with local sex workers, survivors, and community advocates, who have engaged in this work for decades. The SF Bay Area is home to the sex worker rights movement. Together, we can build upon this history to develop policies and programs that prioritize the safety and well-being of sex workers and the Bay Area neighborhoods we work.
It is important to recognize that reducing street prostitution can not happen by solely creating one policy. Instead, reducing harm in the sex trade requires an intersectional approach that addresses the Bay Area's housing crisis, economic opportunities, racial inequality, transgender discrimination, police violence, interpersonal partner violence, queer youth support, the foster care system, and other disparities. Additionally, reversing laws like FOSTA/SESTA, which have increased violence, exploitation, and economic instability for sex workers, is necessary. Until people can meet their material needs in other ways, outdoor prostitution will always exist.
San Francisco and Oakland's latest response to deterring outdoor prostitution is to barricade the streets. Barricades may temporarily relieve a neighborhood from the visibility of sex work, but it is not a solution. This approach only pushes sex work to other blocks or underground, creating more opportunities for abuse and even more dangerous working conditions. In addition, the whole neighborhood faces impeded access to fire and emergency services and is a constant reminder of a hostile environment.
Legalization and decriminalization of sex work are two distinct concepts with different implications. Legalization involves government control and regulation of the industry, which still creates an underground "illegal" sect of the sex trade, increasing opportunities for exploitation and abuse. Legalization creates obstacles for those who do not meet the legal requirements to work, such as undocumented people, those escaping violence, transgender individuals, and folks living in poverty, making them more susceptible to exploitation and abuse. Those who cannot comply with the regulations will still be criminalized and punished. To be clear, legalization disproportionately harms BIPOC, transgender, gender non-conforming, those living with violence, unhoused, and poor people in the sex trade.
It is important to note that decriminalization does not change laws against trafficking, coercion, sex with minors, and other forms of abuse. We condemn exploitation and violence in all forms. This letter is our sincere effort to prevent further harm from coming to marginalized communities.
Decriminalizing sex work removes the punishment and associated stigma, allowing sex workers to access legal protections, health and social services, community support, and other resources to improve working conditions, health, safety, and overall well-being of sex workers AND the communities we share.
Decriminalization is supported and advocated for by (links to decriminalization statements)
World Health Organization (WHO),
Human Rights Watch,
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),
National Harm Reduction Coalition,
DecrimSWCA, and the
National Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP).
We urge San Francisco and Oakland policymakers and neighborhood representatives to work with us and listen to the voices of sex workers and sex worker-led organizations to develop policies prioritizing the safety and well-being of all Bay Area residents. Decriminalization and providing resources would be a more equitable approach that respects the dignity and autonomy of sex workers while addressing the complex social, economic, and health issues associated with the sex trade.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Bay Area Workers Support
St. James Infirmary Health Clinic
With the support of:
National Harm Reduction Coalition
El/La Para TransLatinas
Rad Mission Neighbors
The SF Transgender Cultural District
LYRIC Center for LGBTQQ+ Youth in SF
The SF Leather + LGBTQ Cultural District
Democratic Socialists of America San Francisco