The Police, the DA and SAGE: A lucrative partnership

by  US PROStitutes Collective* in support of Yes on Prop K

Since the First Offender Prostitution Program in San Francisco (FOPP) began in 1995, there has been much public concern over the amount of money it costs to the city of San Francisco, the use of that money and the increasing criminalization of women and men arrested for prostitution charges.

The path-breaking 1996 San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution recommended decriminalization of prostitution and a diversion of funds from prosecution to protection. The FOPP has been used to oppose demands for decriminalization as it gained wider public support.

FOPP’s three main partners are the police, the District Attorney’s Office and Standing Against Global Exploitation (SAGE). It’s stated aim is “an educational program for first offenders, rehabilitation, vocational training . . .for women trying to exit prostitution and services to aid girls to permanently exit the criminal justice system”. What that means in practice is that women and men arrested for prostitution-related activities in street sweeps are diverted to FOPP programs and men can be charged $1000 to attend. Public defenders report that people are sent to FOPP by the courts in preference to other diversion programs, which are free and reportedly more effective. How is the decision made by the court what program women are to be sent to?

Women complain that: they are forced to participate in “prostitution classes” or face jail and fines; the rehabilitation is humiliating, condescending and inappropriate and does nothing to address the reasons they may have been forced into prostitution such as lack of housing and childcare, low wages, debt etc. A former sex worker who was referred to SAGE says:

“They pay lip service to helping women and get a lot of money for computer training, mental health services, harm reduction classes, art therapy, but there is practically nothing at all. The biggest sham is job and vocational programs, they don’t offer any of that. There were four computers, two were broken. I left there exactly as I entered after nine months.”

Other women are forced to attend SAGE to get their children back from Child Protective Services. Women say what is needed are voluntary services independent of the criminal justice system.

The counselors at FOPP’s John’s School (school for clients), including feminists have attacked sex workers’ rights organizations while passing as experts in prostitute women’s suffering and benefiting financially. Some of the women who have attended public forums to speak in favor of SAGE are court mandated to attend FOPP and complain that they cannot voice any criticism for fear of being evicted from the program.

Unanswered questions not addressed by the published information on FOPP include: how many women a year are arrested and how many are charged with prostitution offences in San Francisco; how many women attended FOPP; was the program offered as an alternative to the criminal justice system or did women still get arrest records; are these statistics separated out according to race and if not can they be to show how many Black, immigrant and other women of color are arrested and go through FOPP;  do they go into general FOPP funds and are distributed to the three main partners the police, the District Attorney’s Office and SAGE?

The fees collected by FOPP are paid to the police, the DA’s office and SAGE. There is no question that if the police and DA are benefiting financially from alleged clients who are arrested that this is an incentive for the numbers of arrests and prosecutions to be maintained and increased. This undermines the independence of the criminal justice system and should be condemned as corruption.

FOPP is presented as an alternative to the criminal justice system. It is not. Women still get arrest records. A criminal record institutionalizes women in prostitution, preventing those who want to get out from getting other jobs.  If women default on FOPP they go back to court and may end up in jail.

FOPP claims that its program can impact the issue of the trafficking of women. In fact the opposite is true as criminalizing sex workers and clients makes it harder for anyone to come forward to report violence and exploitation. Figures showing numbers of trafficked women, often put forward by organizations which have a vested interested in promoting trafficking as a burgeoning problem, are wildly exaggerated as no distinction is made between genuine victims and immigrant women working independently in the sex industry.[1] Increasingly people understand that trafficking is not just about prostitution but immigration, women from poorer countries coming to the US to improve their lives and that trafficking is being used primarily to target and deport immigrant people.

Making no distinction between violent men (who may or may not be clients) and non-violent clients is very dangerous. Police and court time and resources should be directed towards the rape and other violence which women report, not wasted on arresting and prosecuting those engaged in consenting sex. All we have heard from people who attend FOPP programs is that it is a crude puritanical mix of moralism, intimidation, and financial and emotional extortion. It is an attempt to shame, embarrass and humiliate using misinformation and myths about prostitute women spreading disease and portraying sex workers as the ultimate victim.

Police decoy operations used to entrap women and men for prostitution offenses who are then referred to FOPP, often take place in predominantly low-income Black and immigrant communities. Concerns have been raised of racist policing and civil rights violations. While some information is available on the racial breakdown of men who go into FOPP, public information is needed on the total number of arrests for prostitution offenses in SF and the racial breakdown of those arrested.

False arrests are occurring because women and clients daren’t risk fighting a prostitution charge by going to court. Even the accusation of being a sex worker or client, especially when people are threatened that this will be reported in the media, let alone the risk of being found guilty (and possible deportation which could result where the “offender” is immigrant), is enough that many feel they have no alternative but to accept the FOPP program.

There is concern that much of the information, data and research done on FOPP is biased since it is done by those who have a vested interest in showing FOPP in a favorable light.

YES on Prop K! No criminalization of sex workers! No profiteering off the illegality of prostitution!

*US PROStitutes Collective is a national network of sex workers and other women campaigning for an end to criminalizing sex workers and for resources so that no woman, man or child is forced into prostitution through poverty. US PROS is part of the International Prostitutes Collective. http://www.prostitutescollective.net
For more information on Yes on Prop K go to yesonpropk.org

2 Responses

  1. My understanding is that some of the men being arrested under these sting operations to get potential clients do not speak English, so they may not even know they’re being solicited. If all they can go by is the body language and tone of voice, they may think that this is just a woman who is interested in them and trying to flirt with them. I read that Latino migrant day laborers have become major targets of such tactics.
    Another thing I’d like to add about programs trying to scare clients away from sex workers is that scaring clients into thinking that they’ll get murdered, robbed, assaulted, or catch STD’s if they continue seeing sex workers exacerbates existing prejudices and stigma against sex workers and doesn’t nothing to promote the rights, wellbeing, and safety of sex workers.

  2. SAGE is getting how much money a year, and they won’t even fix their computers???

    What a fucking scam.

    If any other government program performed this poorly, it would be shut down.

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