Prostitutes, allies advocate safety for sex workers

Police, prosecutors say uphill battle to prevent victimization

By Peter Hartlaub, of The San Francisco Examiner, August 2000

Activists defending prostitutes took their concerns about violence to City Hall, hoping for changes that will make sex workers safer on the streets.

Addressing members of the Finance and Labor Committee on Wednesday, more than a dozen supporters suggested less money should be spent fighting prostitution with more money going to social services to help the women.

“I see on a daily basis violence, whether it’s verbal or physical violence,” said Betty Traynor, who lives near Capp Street in the Mission. “I think what The City’s doing now is not working.”

Supervisor Tom Ammiano noted that the committee could not take action Wednesday, but suggested the entire Board of Supervisors could eventually act.

A lot of the talk focused on the Jack Bokin Case. Bokin was sentenced in January to 231 years to life for a string of violent attacks on prostitutes – at least one of which occurred while Bokin was out on bail.

Prosecutors said that Bokin, a Mission District plumbing contractor, chose prostitutes as his victims because he thought police would not believe them, and court authorities would consider them unreliable witnesses.

Activists read several state­ments from working prostitutes, who claimed they are harassed by police and are not always taken made when complaints are made.

Victoria Schneider, who said she is a prostitute, showed up for the hearing, telling the committee, “We have rights just as anyone else who has a working job in this city.”

Members of the San Francisco Police Department and district attorney’s office defended themselves, saying they are doing what. they can, but need more funding.

Assistant District Attorney Linda Klee said her office is willing to prosecute violent acts against prostitutes, but many prostitutes are not willing to testify, or disap­pear before their cases go to trial.

“It’s a major, major problem,” Klee said.

The SFPD created the Crimes Against Prostitutes unit last year. Police spokesman Inspector Sherman Ackerson said prostitutes who report crimes will not be arrested for prostitution.

“We want to do everything we can to encourage prostitutes to come forward when they are victims of crime,” Ackerson said. “The department will investigate crimes against prostitutes as vigorously as crimes against anybody else.”

Rachel West of US PROStitutes Collective, who helped organize a rally on the City Hall steps before the meeting, made her feel­ings clear afterward.

“There’s been public hearings before,” West said. “It’s time to implement some policies.”


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