The San Francisco Task Force
Prostitution has always existed in San Francisco,
as it has in every city, small or large. Indeed, prostitution is part of San Francisco's
romanticized past: Prostitutes as well as sailors and pirates and gold speculators
made up the Barbary Coast, a part of San Francisco history which we prize today.
Local lore has it that many of the small streets and alleys South of Market were
actually named for some of the City's most famous prostitutes.
Perceptions of modern prostitution, however, far from glamorizing it, bemoan it
as one of the chronic problems of the inner city. Just as the Barbary Coast is
part myth, part exaggeration and part fact, modern perception of prostitution
combines myth, exaggeration and fact. In order to separate fact from fallacy,
the San Francisco Board of Supervisors chartered the San Francisco Task Force
on Prostitution in March of 1994, through a resolution introduced by Supervisor
The Task Force was charged with investigating prostitution patterns and practices
in the City, as well as current social and legal responses. It was further requested
to recommend social and legal reforms which would best respond to the City's needs
while using City resources more efficiently.
The Task Force met for a year and a half. It maintained four standing committees:
Health, Safety and Services; Legal and Fiscal Impact; Neighborhood Issues; and
Research. The committees and the Task Force as a whole received documents, heard
testimony and sought input from every concerned constituency in the City: Business
leaders, neighborhood activists, prostitute advocates, current and former prostitutes,
clients, police, prosecutors and defense attorneys, health professionals, international
scholars and at-large representatives. As expected with such a complex and potentially
volatile issue, the Task Force could not reach consensus on every issue. Its recommendations
represent the best efforts of all concerned to balance competing concerns.
The Task Force concluded that prostitution is not a monolithic institution. Although
the majority of sex workers are women, it encompasses people of all genders working
in the pornographic media industry, live theater, massage parlors, bordellos and
through print advertising, as well as the street workers most commonly envisioned
when the word "prostitution" is mentioned. Because it is such a varied industry,
the City's responses must vary as well.
The Task Force discovered that the complaints leveled against prostitution really
apply only to a fraction of the total industry and that those legitimate concerns
are not being met by efficient and effective solutions. Yet not only are current
responses ineffective, they are also harmful. They marginalize and victimize prostitutes,
making it more difficult for those who want out to get out of the industry and
more difficult for those who remain in prostitution to claim their civil and human
The Task Force hopes that these recommendations will be met with the same spirit
of thoughtful inquiry that went into framing them. The members also hope that
the City will continue the dialogue which the Task Force has begun. An issue as
complex as this one cannot hope to be resolved in the short time we have had.