Protect workers’ safety! Stop the closure of massage parlors! Stop targeting immigrant sex workers!
Under the pretence of stopping sex trafficking, Supervisor Carmen Chu and Mayor Newsom want to impose criminal charges and exorbitant fines on massage parlors despite workers’ concerns that it will push the industry underground making them more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. (See box for details of proposals.) These measures come before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday June 16. See below action you can take.
Chu and Newsom claim they are targeting parlor owners, yet workers, many of whom are immigrant women, will suffer most from increased raids, arrests and criminalization. How will these raids differ from the ongoing harassment of the immigrant community? If and where women are selling sex, parlor closures will force women onto the streets where it is 10 times more dangerous to work. Those who are arrested are likely to end up in prison to the devastation of their children, or deported.
What good reason is there to endanger women’s safety and break up families in this way?
Claims that the measures will “stop sex trafficking” are false. Most parlor employees work consensually, often collectively and with no force or coercion. The nine month Gilded Cage federal investigation into sex trafficking is proof of this. Despite 10 raids, no traffickers were found. Far from being “saved”, more than half of the 105 Korean women arrested were deported after being charged with prostitution. A defense attorney in the case confirmed “women chose to work, nothing was forced, and nothing like slavery ever existed”.
Chu and Newsom are quoted as saying that the proposals “could make it easier to close the 50 or so city-licensed parlors suspected of selling sex.” What is wrong with selling sex if it is consenting? 42% of San Franciscans voted for Prop K to decriminalize prostitution. New Zealand successfully decriminalized six years ago in order to “promote occupational health and safety”, and “protection from exploitation”. There has been no increase in prostitution,pimps or traffickers and women are more able to report violence and insist on their rights.
There are laws against rape, assault, false imprisonment, trafficking . . . Why are they not being used to protect women, children and men who are held against their will? Why bring in indiscriminate charges against brothels where there is no force or coercion?
If passed the new measures will:
- Undermine sex workers’ safety. Workers fearing arrest and/or deportation will be less able to report rape or other violence and exploitation. Forcing women out of the relative safety of premises will make them more vulnerable to attack.
- Undermine all women’s safety. Targeting consenting sex diverts police and court time and resources from investigating crimes of violence. When law enforcement target sex workers violent men are encouraged to attack any woman they decide is a ‘whore’.
- Increase racist immigration raids. Immigrant workers, mostly women of color, will be targeted. Raids add to immigrant workers vulnerability to exploitation.
- Devastate families. Most sex workers are mothers struggling to support their children. Jail and deportation devastate families.
- Prevent sex workers from leaving prostitution if they want to. A criminal record for prostitution makes it harder to get another job as well as your immigration status.
- Encourage police illegality and corruption. The SF Task Force took the police out of the permit process because of evidence that some officers accepted bribes. Why is this being reversed? Why ask vice squad officers to testify at parlor permit hearings on whether sexual services are being provided regardless of whether criminal charges have been brought?
- Speed up racist gentrification policies. Developers will be allowed to seize land in the Tenderloin and downtown areas.
- Allow the health department to profit from criminalization and fines. Director Mitch Katz was right when he said that “it is the agency’s job to look for health code violations, not stop prostitution.” Yet the health department had to spend $500,000 to defend itself against raid-related cases.
1. Please endorse the statement below and return it to us.
2. Write to your supervisor and tell her/him to vote against this legislation.
3. Come to the next Board of Supervisors’ hearing on Tuesday June 16, 2pm at City Hall, main chambers, 2nd floor.
We the undersigned oppose the “Penalties for Violation of Massage Practitioner Licensing and Regulation Ordinance” because it: undermines workers’ safety, especially women’s; diverts police and health department resources from protection to prosecution; encourages the racist targeting of immigrant people; breaks up families; ignores widespread public opposition to the criminalization of consenting sex; squanders public money when programs are being drastically cut; encourages gentrification and profiteering by the City.
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Provisions in the “Penalties for Violation of Massage Practitioner Licensing and Regulation Ordinance” include: increased civil penalties for permit violations, such as employing masseuses who wear revealing clothing with fines up to $5000; a new misdemeanor charge, with jail time up to six months or a $1,000 fine for violations such as operating after 10pm, employing unlicensed masseuses, using a room as a sleeping room, not having a permit displayed; a fee for re-inspections after code violations are found. A second ordinance “Zoning – New Controls for Massage Establishments” requires any business, such as a nail salon, that wants to provide massage therapy as an accessory to its main service to apply to the City for permission and show that the service was “necessary, desirable and appropriate for the neighborhood”.