San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution
Final Report 1996

Prostitution Task Force
Sex Workers' Issues Testimony Meeting-Carol Leigh

Carol Leigh

I've worked as a prostitute for 15 years in San Francisco, mostly indoors, with other call girls, through ads in the paper and in studios. I've been a COYOTE member since I began working as a prostitute, along with many other working prostitutes, dancers and advocates in San Francisco. I also do street outreach with the Coalition on Prostitution, so I have participated in prostitutes' rights advocacy from many perspectives.

As a working prostitute, I still see some of my old regulars, although most of my work now is as a video editor, producer and teacher, and a performance and video artist. In fact, through this work I have met many other artists in San Francisco who support themselves as sex workers, and I think it's an important part of the communities here to recognize. Instead of just talking about my experiences, I will hand in some information about my experience working as a prostitute, and being raped, and unable to go to the police, because of the criminalization.

But here I want to talk about the process of the Task Force. I was very glad the our Task Force had some influence to stop the use of condoms as evidence against us by the District Attorney, and after all the work this has been, it seems that even if our recommendations sit on a shelf, at least we have done some good by that.

I hope that we are given the opportunity to contribute our expertise, and certainly there has been so much dedication. Many former and current prostitutes, many of us, work as health service providers and many of us have done a lot to bring resources to prostitutes on the streets, and have helped to provide support and organize support groups for indoor workers as well.

It is very rare that so many with real experience in this business have been seated on a government task force to work with attorneys and other experts in city government to find solutions that really do address the realities of prostitution, rather than some bureaucratic fantasy of what prostitution should be...usually according to some male bureaucratic who wants to control inspect prostitutes to assure his own safety, without regarding the fact that this has been tried through history and only backfires.

It is pretty amazing that former and even current prostitutes who are stigmatized and illegal have taken it upon themselves to risk the stigma, and even legal dangers to participate on this Task Force. I hope that we aren't too burnt out after all this work to take the necessary next steps to make these recommendations a reality. Obviously some are pretty far off in the future, but others seem like a matter of actually just doing the work and lobbying.

We are fortunate to be in San Francisco where the open mindedness about different lifestyles has given us the support we need to even get this far. I think it would take many years for this kind of courage to be supported and developed in most cities in this country, but maybe around the world in other cities, this is happening, and we can contribute to it. The 'it' I'm talking about is participation by prostitutes in some of the planning and policy making around the issue of prostitution. Usually prostitutes, especially currently working prostitutes, are just considered so bad that governments disregard us as citizens with rights or opinions. It seems like in most government situations, a prostitute has to turn around and renounce prostitution in order to be taken seriously. But we all know that there are always prostitutes who are proud of supporting ourselves and our families, and are aware of the hypocrisy around our condemnation.

Most places the discourse around prostitution is about the social workers taking care of pathologized women, and although services are central to this issue, there is much more to prostitution that dealing with what other people think are wayward women.

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