City Critique of First Offender Prostitution Program Welcomed

The US PROStitutes Collective (US PROS) and many others are glad to see the critical audit of the First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP) just released by the city’s budget analyst.  US PROS and other sex worker organizations worked with Supervisor McGoldrick in calling for this city audit.  The audit says, according to an article published September 20, 2009 in the SF Chronicle , that the program “has a $270, 000 shortfall” and “ill-defined goals and no way to determine its effectiveness”.  FOPP includes the “john’s school” and the SAGE project, so-called “diversion” programs that people are mandated to go to by the court on a first arrest for prostitution.

There has been public opposition to FOPP since its inception, which has included a legal challenge by the Public Defender’s Office, Supervisors’ questions about its cost during budget hearings and FOPP was targeted for “racial profiling” in the 2008 voter initiative Proposition K, which won 42% of the vote.  FOPP was set up during the SF Task Force on Prostitution as what many saw as a counter to the Task Force’s groundbreaking recommendations for decriminalization.

“Women in our network sent to the SAGE project by the courts have found the “rehabilitation”  humiliating, condescending and inappropriate doing nothing to address the reasons they may have been forced into prostitution such as lack of housing and childcare, low wages, debt etc.”  says Rachel West of US PROS. “Other women are forced to attend SAGE to get their children back from Child Protective Services. It’s widely recognized that these kind of compulsory rehabilitation programs don’t work. What is needed are voluntary services independent of the criminal justice system.”

“Enforcement of the prostitution laws disproportionately impact women of color whether they are working in massage parlors targeted for immigration raids or working on the street. Men arrested under these laws are also mostly men of color”, said Nell Myhand of Legal Action for Women. “ The fact that the three partners of FOPP – the police, the District Attorney’s Office and SAGE share in the proceeds of arrests (men arrested for soliciting an act of prostitution pay $1000 for a class) is clearly an incentive for the numbers of arrests and prosecutions to be maintained and increased, and should be condemned as corruption”.

“So much for these programs not costing San Franciscans” says Lori Nairne, a nurse supporting decriminalization. “Hopefully this audit will lead to the city dropping these costly and damaging programs. Why isn’t the priority going after violent men who attack women?”

FOPP’s claims that its program can impact the trafficking of women have also not proven true.  Criminalizing sex workers and clients makes it harder for anyone to come forward to report violence and exploitation.  Figures showing numbers of trafficked women, often put forward by organizations which have a vested interested in promoting trafficking as a burgeoning problem, are greatly exaggerated with no distinction made between actual victims and immigrant women working independently in the sex industry.  Trafficking is being used primarily to target and deport immigrant people.

US PROS wrote an expose of FOPP that was published in Some Mother’s Daughter: The Hidden Movement of Prostitute Women against Violence, a book published by the International Prostitutes Collective

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