Victory! SF BOS votes to audit SAGE, SFDA, and SFPD FOPP!

Victory! SF Board of Supervisors vote 7 to 4 for a complete audit of the First Offenders Prostitution Program, run by SAGE, SF District Attorney, and SF Police Dept.

by Robyn Few
March 5, 2008

On Tuesday March 4th San Francisco Supervisor Jake McGoldrick was supported by his fellow Board members to have a full audit of the controversial program that has been raining havoc on the street prostitution community since 1996, the First Offenders Prostitution Program (FOPP).

A local prostitute named Norma Hotaling, after being arrested numerous times, decided to hang up her high heels and start working with the San Francisco Vice Squad to get prostitutes off the streets.  SFPD would arrest the prostitutes in sting operations and send them to Norma’s new program at Standing Against Global Exploitation, (SAGE). Hotaling’s brain child, the First Offenders Prostitution Program (FOPP), is a shame based program, that prostitutes and their clients are forced to pay to attend by the court system. Money taken in by the FOPP is distributed between the SF District Attorney’s Office, the SF Police Department and our local non profit, SAGE. The worst news about the program is it has been duplicated in 25 cities around the US.

Once there, if you are a client or ‘John’ you pay your hefty fine of anywhere from $1000 to $1500. During your visit to SAGE and the FOPP you may be shown pictures of rotting penis’s, or perhaps be ridiculed and yelled at by ex hookers. Maybe you will be threatened, because if you don’t pay up your fine and be a good student in the program the police will contact your family and tell them all about your arrest.

Unfortunately, this program targets the most marginalized members of the sex worker community, street workers and their clients. The majority of men who are arrested and placed in ‘John’s School’ are men of color who don’t speak english. The prostitutes are not given any other choices and are forced by the courts to attend the FOPP. They are sometimes fined anywhere from $500 to $1000, depending on their ability to pay.

Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) has been working with Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, the Erotic Service Providers Union (ESPU) and US Prostitutes Collective (US PROS) to expose the FOPP. For the last few years, the ESPU has requested information through the SF Sunshine Taskforce about the finances and the role of the District Attorneys office in the FOPP. Supervisor McGoldrick has held meetings with the DA and SFPD about the FOPP. He has met countless times with sex workers trying to find out information on the program. To date we have not been given any information. Not even basic info, like how many participate in the program a year, what is their race and gender . Never mind the main question we want to know, where does the money go from the fines and how does that fine money pay for the expensive sting operations that bring in the clients for the program.

The FOPP reeks of corruption and mismanagement. It is time that sex workers fight against discriminating programs that are being run by politicians. We must stop the profiteering by law enforcement and NGO’s off the criminalization of prostitution. We should be given choices by the courts to do diversion programs that we choose not programs that we are forced into that separate and stigmatize us from the rest of society. We must decriminalize prostitution so that we are not afraid to ask for help when we are ready to exit the sex industry. We need programs that are not shame based but respect us for the choices that we have made and trust that we will leave the sex industry when we are ready, not when you force us out for our own good.

17 Responses

  1. Robyn –

    Since I began working at SAGE a few months ago, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the ways my sex-positive feminist background fits – or doesn’t – with a few of the organization’s tactics. In my opinion, some of the approaches used at the Johns’ School, for example, could be described as “shame-based.” On the other hand, what keeps me coming through the office doors every Monday morning is the incredible commitment everyone at SAGE – our administrative and executive staff, our counselors, and Norma herself – has to our clients’ empowerment and self-respect.

    In addition to the Johns’ School, SAGE provides intensive outpatient substance abuse counseling, case management, health education, and trauma recovery assistance to a population often in dire need of these services. According to our website, SAGE’s mission is “to improve the lives of individuals victimized by, or at risk for sexual exploitation, violence, and prostitution…” Several times a day, I’m reminded of the very real needs of the people we serve when a client-designed poster hanging next to my desk catches my eye. It reads, “Sex work is not a choice… when it’s your only option.”

    SAGE was founded and continues to operate on the philosophy that sex workers are human beings who deserve quality health care, safe housing, and economic opportunities beyond prostitution should they choose to leave it. Many of our counselors are themselves former sex workers and recovering substance abusers who use this first-hand experience to enrich the respectful and compassionate harm reduction services they provide. (As an aside, I find it interesting that in a posting on a blog strongly advocating for sex workers’ rights and dignity, you pejoratively refer to our executive director’s criminal history and status in recovery.)

    Without personally knowing the ins and outs of our budget, I’d say the money from the Johns’ School probably does exactly what you would expect income to do at small- to mid-sized non-profit: it helps to pay my co-workers’ salaries, covers some of the rent for our office space, and allows us to serve our clients to the best of our abilities.

    Hopefully, the passion and political will that instigated the Board of Supervisors’ audit can begin to create a space in which the difficult and painful realities of survival sex work are balanced with liberatory potential of sexual empowerment for all people. If you or anyone else reading and commenting here are interested in starting discussions that would lay the groundwork to bring a more sex-positive perspective to some of SAGE’s programs, I’d be more than happy to do what I can to make that happen. I look forward to hearing from you.

  2. Rachel, I almost don’t have the energy to hammer on about this any more. What exactly and give me specifics does thr SAGE Project, Inc. do to rehabilitate sex workers to have the ability to do something else, specifically job training and job skills. You mention the SAGE website and on the website the list of programs goes on and on and is quite impressive. Give the job training, resume buliding, computer training, including the advanced computer training mentioned on the site in detail and how those programs operate there.
    I warn you, I was a client at SAGE and a SAGE graduate and I don’t care if you are sex positive or not…get to the services that SAGE recieves money for providing.
    Only one point that I can agree with you on Rachel and that is the peer counselors at SAGE are good women.

  3. One last point for clarity. I entered the SAGE Project as a 41 year old woman who had spent years in the sex industry. I had no job skills outside the industry and no education. I was considered a good client while I was at the SAGE Project. I went to every group, participated and followed direction. Although, I believed the promises made on the website and unfortunately also made by my first peer counselor there, I graduated from the SAGE Program Inc. exactly as I had entered, with no job skills or job training outside the sex industry and absolutely no education or even the direction towards one.
    I am still angry.

  4. Rachael,
    Glad to see you welcome an audit.
    In an effort to assist, you can answer the following questions:
    How many times has SFPD arrested you for prostitution?
    How much money did you have to pay to attend the FOPP to get the charges dropped?
    How much time did you have to spend at the FOPP to get the charges dropped?
    How much to you and your coworkers get paid to work for SAGE?
    Thanks
    Maxine

  5. “Without personally knowing the ins and outs of our budget, I’d say the money from the Johns’ School probably does exactly what you would expect income to do at small- to mid-sized non-profit: it helps to pay my co-workers’ salaries, covers some of the rent for our office space, and allows us to serve our clients to the best of our abilities.”

    No Rachel, the money collected (coerced) from the male clients goes back to the SFPD’s over 11 million dollar budget of criminalizing sex workers, to not only continue to arrest the men but also arrest the women workers, who must also now attend the SAGE Project or ah, go back to jail.
    The gig is up.
    Criminalizing us or them makes our work more dangerous and effects our ability to feed our families and pay our rent. Period.
    Maybe, if there is any worth to reposting every thing that we have already written about the SAGE Project, Inc. because it has been said here and at the top of our lungs a million times but you know already Rachel and still you are committed. You are not at all interested in any dialogue really. In fact, you are riding shotgun for Norma Hotaling and Melissa farley and that makes you an enemy of every worker forced to pay your way, not only with our economy but with our lives.

  6. “I find it interesting that in a posting on a blog strongly advocating for sex workers’ rights and dignity, you pejoratively refer to our executive director’s criminal history and status in recovery.”

    Norma exploits her own history to promote her sham program and she gets paid a great deal of money to do it, big salary, car and traveling expenses. Doesn’t seem like that would sit right in the mind of a sex worker, forced out of work by arrest and then forced to sit through the “prostitution” group every Friday afternoon.

  7. Rachel said: (As an aside, I find it interesting that in a posting on a blog strongly advocating for sex workers’ rights and dignity, you pejoratively refer to our executive director’s criminal history and status in recovery.)

    The above conflicting statement is an example of internal oppression that SAGE relies on their staff vocalizing to perpetrate their poverty pimping agenda.

    Norma Hotaling has stated her position many times in public, yet this blog of sex workers is being held to another standard for her?
    The right to privacy is a human right we, actual sex workers invoke to protect ourselves against negative stigma associate with our criminal occupation. The negative stigma of criminality, you, Rachel, of the SAGE project, profit off of by getting you and your co workers’ salaries paid for by the city, and fines and fees from the clients, the workers and our customers. Your profit at our expense while we become targets for the violence of arrest and prosecution.

    And the irony of calling out sex worker privacy when you hang the threat of negative stigma of public disclosure for prostitution arrests over SAGE’s clients’ heads as a means of coercion to mandate participation!

    Look, the audit is working already, exposing the hypocrisy!

  8. Doesn’t seem like that would sit right in the mind of a sex worker, forced out of work by arrest and then forced to sit through the “prostitution” group every Friday afternoon….
    or with my Asian Sex Worker Sisters who get raided, arrested, detained and then deported. Norma recieves hundreds of thousands of dollars through her collaboration with the Department of Justice for SAGE’s “sex traffic” rescue (arrest and deport) participation. Persecution based on immigration status, country of origin and occupation.
    Aside from money collected from the DOJ, SAGE also relies on criminalization for funding through the SFDA office and the SFPD.

  9. “And the irony of calling out sex worker privacy when you hang the threat of negative stigma of public disclosure for prostitution arrests over SAGE’s clients’ heads as a means of coercion to mandate participation!”

    Amen.

  10. Hey Lisa, at all,
    Did you know that when immigrant workers are arrested for prostitution and go to diversion programs like SAGE, they don’t get the benefit of having their records cleared like US citizens do? In fact, diversions count as conviction and precludes them from gaining future visas, work cards and US citizenship,

  11. Rachel,
    Though I support providing services to help people who need and want these services, I don’t support profitting off of the persecution of prostitutes, which is what SAGE does, in partnership with law enforcement and the D.A. Though SAGE acts like it is just trying to go after the clients and pimps, the truth is that prostitutes are also being persecuted and harmed under prostitution prohibitionist laws. You mentioned that SAGE strives to empower and promote self-respect among your clients, but I see nothing empowering about law enforcement setting up sting operations to arrest prostitutes and then putting the ultimatum on them: either go to jail or to SAGE. I don’t see how that promotes seIf-respect either. I also don’t see how profitting off of the persectution of prostitutes empowers them or encourages self-respect. The criminalization of prostitution makes it more dangerous. Not only are some clients and pimps perpetrating abuse and using the criminalization of prostitution to help them get away with it, but so are some law enforcement officials who promote these prohibitionist policies against prostitution.
    If you really want to help prostitutes, then advocate against their persecution rather than profitting off of it.
    In terms of the quote about “Sex work not being a choice if it’s the only option,” well, neither is persecution. These sex workers aren’t choosing to be persecuted nor are they choosing to have their client base (hence, their income based) persecuted just for being their clients, though they should have the right to report abusive clients without incriminating themselves in the process.
    Also, in cases where people work in prostitution because of lack of other options, prostitution isn’t the core problem, but lack of other options is, and criminalizing prostitution doesn’t just magically give people other options. Also, sometimes people consent under the circumstances they happen to be in, which people in various occupations and in marriage sometimes do. Yet, I’m not noticing SAGE saying that people can’t consent to engage in other jobs or marriage.
    Like with abortion, I don’t think that having an unwanted pregancy is a desireable situation to be in. Nonetheless, people with access to abortions can still make choices within the circumstances they happen to be in. The same can be said about prostitution. Even though some people in prostitution wouldn’t be in prostitution under ideal circumstances, that doesn’t mean that they can’t make choices under the circumstances they happen to be in. It’s important to look at situations in context rather than making rash overgeneralizations about prostitution.

  12. If Lisa did everything that SAGE required and still left the program without marketable job skills, then SAGE did not do what it purports to do. It does make me wonder what the percentage of successful graduates are and how they are defined.

    XX

  13. Maxine, thank you for posting the facts regarding the further opression that immigrant sex industry workers face and sexworkeradvocate, every point perfectly made. Your cooler heads prevail here. I am afraid that any defense of SAGE Project, Inc. as posted here this morning gets me very angry. For that matter, so does all the other bullshit/sham/corrupt/oppurtunistic and low down dirty criminal deeds of not just Norma but Melissa Farley, Annie Fukushima and my personal new favorite, David “Not For Sale” Batstone, fraud “do-gooder” and capitalist/bloodsucking crusader, who stalks the Asian Sex Workers, has his students hold the video camera. Then Batstone calls the SFDA and wants the SFPD to do the “rescue” knowing damn well exactly what that means to the immigrant workers. What furthers my anger and frustration on this cast of villians, is that they are going from college to college, convincing youth, who care about human rights and confuse them into thinking that they are participating in some 21st century abolishionist movement.
    Stepping away from the sex industry, let’s assume that you suspect, Rachel, that the garment factory down your street is a sweat shop. Wouldn’t you know better than to bring in law enforcement? Wouldn’t the last thing you would want to happen to any of those workers is an ICE raid or even the police that would bring in immigration enforcement.
    Immigrant workers don’t fear their exploitative bosses, they fear I.C.E. and I will tell you from my own personal experience, that I did not fear my bosses, I feared the police and men who are able to prey on sex industry workers because of our criminal status. You are serving those we have the most to lose from when you work for the SAGE Project.
    You want to do something about exploitation in the sex industry? Decriminalize so that we can come forward and report. That way we have recourse when abuse or exploitation does occur. If you truly are for social justice than organize for the decriminlaization of not just sex industry workers but of all immigrant workers no matter what industry they work in and quit your job at SAGE. Maybe if nobody showed up to work at the SAGE Project, Inc. tomorrow, it would be a good start.

  14. Amanda, I spent months at SAGE and in fact graduated..although I was too pissed off to show up at the ceremony and pick up my diploma. No one from the SAGE Project, Inc. ever contacted me to see how I was doing after the program. This is by the way a violation of their federal funding money. To recieve federal grant money they have to provide after service statistics, which would require an after service survey. Never happened.
    Shocking to add that during my entire time at SAGE I never once met Norma. I was there five days a week and all day. Aside from the few peer counselors who may have been clients, never once did a former graduate show up to the program to tell their “SAGE success story.” You think that if the program was so damn successful that the “rescued” from the sex industry women and girls would be banging the door down to spread the love. Never happened. Not once.
    I am angry not just about what happened to me personally but the effects of the whole SAGE scam start to finish for all industry workers.

  15. Short notice, I know! Some hastily posted signs around SAGE’s administrative location at 1385 Mission Street, Suite 300 are advertising this evening’s board meeting, held from 6:00 – 8:00 pm, as open to the public. Forward to whoever you think might like to come along…

  16. well they must not really have wanted ‘the public’ there or they’d posted here on this site!
    So what happened? Did any other members of the public show up?
    I wonder if they’re reacting to the petition and members of the press calling them. I know other groups have called them to ask their reaction to the petition that calling for the end of the First Offender Program they run.

  17. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/04/14/MNGE102OK5.DTL

    This is a ‘hit’ piece.
    I heard that SAGE held a board meeting last week that was open to the public.
    This piece must be one of the results of that meeting. SAGE must be getting inquiries from the press and community members about the petition.
    The study released by the JOD wasn’t released to any members of the public so we don’t know what valid scientific data collection was employed to back up any of the statements made by the DOJ. We don’t know if the study has been subjected to peer review by credible researchers who aren’t involved in profiting off the criminalization of prostitution.
    We do know that the DOJ and SAGE are partners in defrauding San Francisco and American taxpayers. The report didn’t mention all the money SAGE gets from the city by making statements that reflect sex negative shame based social values as a basis for policy and practices. We do know that Norma Hotaling filed an Amicus brief with the feds that resulted in gagging other non-profits from speaking about sex worker lest they risk loosing monies. Now it seems that the Chronicle has become a party to the profiting off the criminalization of prostitution. To mention the nationality of the brunette who gets paid to tell her story to those who’ve been coerced into giving up their right to due process under threat of having their story made public and face discrimination is typical tabloid reporting.
    The very idea that the Chronicle has published one-sided opinions as facts again is exactly the kind of one-sided reporting we’ve come to expect from them. I’d like to see a pole on how many readers actually believe anything they read in the Chronicle. The shallow reporting missed the part about the public testimony at the board of supervisor’s committee were specifics were told about how SAGE doesn’t delivery the services mandated in it’s mission statement. The reporter missed the part where the District Attorney, who administrates the First Offender Prostitution Program, was found in violation of the sunshine ordinance task force for not turning over reports mandated in it’s own contract with SAGE.

    But the Chronicle did expose wittingly or unwittingly in it’s article on 4/12/08 about the DA’s office submitting and receiving federal grants it is not qualified for, that Tim Silard, of the DA’s office is their go to guy for the feds. Tim Silard is also the go to guy for SAGE. He serves on their board as their treasure. SAGE too has received monies from homeland security. Racially profiled workers have to have some place to go before they get deported or become witness for the prosecution in order to stay in this country.
    The DA’s office also pays SAGE to run the FOPP. The monies collected from the FOPP are split between the DA’s office, SFPD and SAGE. This is called profiting off the criminalization of prostitution. Additionally, Andrea Shorter, commissioner for the San Francisco Status on Women, also sits on SAGE’s board. She works for the department of juvenile justice, another revenue source for SAGE from another city department.

    It’s clearly a conflict of interest for taxpayers to allow city employees to sit on boards of non-profits when those non profits are receiving funding from that employee’s department. Now we’re paying for an unverifiable survey we can’t read from the federal government on prostitution? The same government that used the ‘weapon’s of mass destruction’ statement to warrant invading and occupying another country for how many years now? The same government that gave the DA’s office 9.3 million dollars over a 3 year period for prosecutions it didn’t authorize and now it wants the money back?
    FYI, SFPD pays itself time and a half to run the prostitution sting operations in the first place! http://espu-ca.org/wp/?page_id=109

    Please join me in the Decriminalize Prostitution effort! Stop the Enforcement of the prostitution laws; stop the funding of the FOPP, stop racially profiling workers!

    http://espu-ca.org/wp/?page_id=173

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