The San Francisco Task Force
on Prostitution:
Final Report
March 1996

Executive Summary

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 Terence Hallinan.

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 rights.

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.