Resurgence in Prostitution on Capp Street

En Español.

Go social - share this article with your friendsFacebookGoogle+PinterestRedditLinkedInEmail

Even when Gregory Dicum returns home early on Friday or Saturday night, it’s hard to miss the scantily clad women working the street corners outside his house. On a recent weekend night, the Capp Street resident awoke to a woman screaming, “You’re the worst pimp I have ever had!”

He has found it hard to shield his son from the recent resurgence in prostitution on Capp. One weekend morning the three-year-old pointed out a used condom in front of his home and asked his dad for an explanation.

“Just go down around 20th and Capp streets on Friday or Saturday night and you’ll see six or seven hookers standing around at that intersection,” Dicum said. “It just came out of nowhere.”

Well, maybe not out of nowhere.

Historically the area has been the Mission’s most notorious prostitution hot spot. But until the last few months, when neighbors started to notice an upsurge, prostitution around Capp had seemed to be declining.

Capp Street residents have been quick to organize in response to the increased activity. Dicum and others have been in contact with the San Francisco Police Department and Mission Station, as well as Supervisor David Campos. Dicum is circulating a petition online and in person that he plans to present at the April 24 community meeting at Mission Station.

“We find it unacceptable that we are woken up at night by screaming hookers, that we are endangered by the reckless driving of their customers and associates, that we have to step over used condoms in the morning with our children, and that we feel a sense of menace when we are walking home at night,” reads a section of the petition.

Mission Station isn’t taking the upsurge in prostitution lightly. Police have responded with an increased presence of patrol cars, as well as “under cover operations,” said Lt. Sean O’Leary. According to the SFPD’s Crime Incidents Map, there were five reported incidents of prostitution in February between 18th and 20th on Capp Street.

“It’s always been there,” O’Leary said. “Our goal is to curb it or displace it. We’re not going to make it go away entirely, and I would be a fool to say that we are.”

Not all neighbors are convinced the police are doing enough. Warren Spicer, who has lived at Capp and 20th for 13 years, has noticed prostitutes hiding on his stairs or behind the bushes in his front yard. But it was when he noticed pimps loitering outside his home that he started to feel unsafe and called the non-emergency police line. He was left on hold, he said, and finally hung up in frustration.

“Any increased presence of police certainly hasn’t been proportional to the increase in prostitution,” Spicer said. “Especially when there are pimps out there. The measured response has been inadequate.”

While David, who has lived at Capp and 20th for eight years, doesn’t feel that the increase in prostitution has made the neighborhood unsafe, he is frustrated with what has become the regular weekend scene. Sometimes he notices prostitutes still wandering the street when he wakes up around 5:30 a.m.

“It just sucks that it’s on my street, in front of my house,” he said.

In a district that already has significant crime, Mission Station can only dedicate so many resources to curbing prostitution, police said. The problem usually occurs late at night when Mission Station has less staff on call, according to O’Leary. And prostitution is a misdemeanor, he said, meaning police must respond to more serious crimes, such as a robbery in progress, before they can respond to a report of prostitution.

But Supervisor Campos said it is crucial for the police department to act before the prostitution escalates even further.

“Any time there is an increase in crime, you always worry about escalation,” Campos said. “It’s important for the police department to respond quickly to prevent escalation and to make sure all the officers at Mission Station are aware of the situation, so it doesn’t spread.”

Of particular worry to the Capp Street residents are the pimps that appear to accompany these new prostitutes, and a sense that the prostitutes are coming from other neighborhoods or even other cities to work Capp Street. “It’s totally organized crime and human trafficking,” Dicum said.

Dicum has noticed Capp Street mentioned on online message boards as a hot spot for prostitution, and worries that unless police address the problem promptly, more customers will come looking for it in his neighborhood.

One April 2 comment posted on myRedBook.com, which is advertised as a “premier adult entertainment ommunity,” reads: “On Thursday night, there were more girls than you could count. I walked up to Capp and 20th and went ‘eenie menie miney hoe.’”

O’Leary acknowledged that the upsurge in prostitution could lead to more serious crimes or violence, such as territorial disputes between pimps or crimes against prostitutes.

But it’s too early to tell whether police efforts are working, O’Leary said. He asked the community to continue to call when they see incidents of prostitution, so Mission Station can devote the necessary resources to squelching the resurgence.

“We’re doing the best that we can to combat it,” O’Leary said. “But there is crime throughout the district that we need to address. We can’t just throw all our eggs in one basket.”

54 Comments

  1. Old Mission Neighbor

    Campos needs to push the police to curb gang violence and murders before he starts complaining about prostitution.

    • Seriously. I thought that as a former undocumented migrant himself, David Campos had a better understanding of the importance of protecting civil liberties and standing up for marginalized communities.

      The bigotry and stereotyping by those wanting people like him to “get out of our country” is not so different from the bigotry and stereotyping by those wanting sex workers to “get out of our neighborhood”.

  2. Lauren

    Neighbors (I am one of them) can take the approach that worked for a different spot in SF years ago:

    Water balloons dropped from on high.

    Ain’t getting a hookin’ job if your soaked.

  3. marcos

    Greg Suhr is baaaaccckk!

  4. johnnysf

    I feel sorry for the residents, but you’re really quoting a guy named “Dicum” for this???? LOL!

  5. Ramon

    If San Francisco residents had passed the proposition a few years ago that wod have legalized prostitution we wouldn’t have this problem. Instead of allowing dignity to these women and allowing them a better place to be, we have pushed them onto the street again. Do not judge them. We don’t know the circumstances that led them to become sex workers. And BTW I live in the area where they work.

    • MrWriteSF

      REALLY Ramon? And if it was legal, would it be OK for them to hang in front of a high school at 3:00? To be on Muni buses with the other students? Working AT&T and Candlestick Parks during home games? Cruising for Johns during Outlands in GG Park?

      • J

        No, MrWriteSF, in a legal business space indoors would be the idea.

      • Neighbor

        I believe the theory is, if they had an indoor location where they could hook legally, they wouldn’t have to do it outdoors.

    • Ramon, thank you for your tolerance and upholding the virtue of hospitality. It would be nice if more of those fortunate enough to have places to live shared more of your outlook, rather than being myopically focused on their own “quality of life”. What about the quality of life of those who are working the streets or seeking some erotic companionship, a basic human need?

  6. Shemp Stielhope

    I’m so tired of all the pussies that have moved into this neighborhood

  7. gregory dicum

    Hey, it’s me. If you’re interested in signing the letter to the police, here it is: http://bit.ly/cappstreet

    • shot well

      As much as I admire your hard work, I have noticed an increase in prostitution on Shotwell Street since you began. Please ask the police, when you present your petition today, not to clean up Capp at Shotwell’s expense. Surely they can find a way to patrol both areas.

  8. Barbara

    Sex work is work. Let’s show a little respect for how hard these women are working. They don’t need police harassment. They need access to health care and safe working conditions. Capp St. has always been a street for working women. Gentrification doesn’t stop people for needing to work or feed their families. It increases the pressure on women.

    • Not everyone who lives on Capp St. is part of “gentrification”. There are multi-generational families who have lived on Capp St. for many decades.

    • lealo

      Please. They have access to health care. SF offers about 10 health programs for prostitutes. Give me a break. I can provide referrals if you like.

      People don’t want prostitutes on their street turning tricks. It has nothing to do with “gentrification.” Sorry if you’re line of work is a) illegal and b) offensive to most of the families in the neighborhood. Try hooking indoors sometimes.

      I don’t care if people smoke or buy/sell pot but I don’t want a bunch of pot dealers hanging out on my street selling it from my front stoop… Is that really so hard to understand??? Not to mention the violence associated with protecting an illegal activity on the street.

      • Lisa

        You know what, Barbara, most of the people who have spoken about the prostitution have respect for the hardships of these women. It doesn’t make you a snobbish yuppie if you don’t want pimps on your doorstep or condoms on your sidewalk.

      • “lealo” – As a sex worker myself, I’d like to know about these approximately 10 health programs for prostitutes! I hope you will provide more details.

    • marcos

      Capp Street is a residential street, rich or poor. Commercial businesses are not allowed on residential streets whether a restaurant, car repair shop, grocery or yes, drug dealer or prostitute. Folks get to live in their homes without having to deal with ongoing business operations on their front doorsteps.

      Unless, of course, the small businesspeople pay rent to residents in the form of either drugs or some nookie.

      • When I was speaking tonight with “Jocelyn” and “Elizabeth”, it suddenly occurred to me that in the absence of other pressures, a residential street is *not* the most natural place for street prostitution to occur. The reason it happens in quieter and more residential areas like 20th and Capp — and when I mentioned this theory, one of the working girls I was talking with confirmed it — is that if they walked up and down a commercial thoroughfare like Mission, they (and their clients) would tend to be more visible to the police cruising around and consequently more likely to be hassled or arrested.

        Lesson from this story — If you want fewer street-based sex workers working in residential neighborhoods, get the police to start leaving them alone when they work in more commercial areas where fewer people are trying to sleep at night, and streets and sidewalks are cleaned more regularly.

        From what I can see, a de facto police policy of leaving street prostitution alone in commercial areas would be a win-win situation. The workers would be easier to find for clients. Police would have more time and resources to devote to reducing actual violent crime, and could more readily keep an eye on any criminality of that sort which the presence of a criminalized trade might attract. Residents would see less car traffic on residential streets at night and maybe even somewhat less litter and other street noise (although I think some of you may be putting an inordinate amount of the blame for these things on sex workers and so are liable to be disappointed).

  9. ward

    Setup webcams; live stream the clients, the cars they drive, etc
    It has been proven effective in other cities.
    good luck

  10. Patrick Monk.RN

    So sad, but a sign of the times. Until we stop focusing on the latest i-pod, $150 sneakers, newest hip restaurant etc, and pay attention to the basic needs of the ‘less fortunate’ it’s only gonna get worse. Legalisation could be a useful first step. Legalising drugs would also save the billions being raked in by the Prison Industrial Complex as they continue ‘outlawing’ millions for minor drug offenses, 80% of whom are ‘non-white’.

  11. mission-ite

    this is not a case of gentrification and police harassment… this is about creating a safe neighborhood for working families and children who LIVE HERE. why is it acceptable and tolerable for prostitution and illegal activity to take place on Capp Street and not, let’s say, the Marina? this is not a matter about disrespecting sex workers, rather of not having a hooker change her tampon in front of my doorstep, or leaving used condoms in my yard, or yelling and fighting in the middle of the night and waking up folks who have kids and wake up early for work the next day. I have spoken to these women on several occasions with respect, because everyone deserves it. but having pimps ring the bell at 3am to check if you’re home so they can conduct their business at your front door is not acceptable. gangs are not the only problem in the neighborhood. apathy is the greatest blunder! thank you Greg D for your hard work in mobilizing our neighborhood.

  12. Wannabe John

    At least post a google map so I can find the place!

  13. Dan the Man

    Welcome to the world of an urban low-income environment. You should have known better before coming to a neighborhood because it was ‘hip’ or ‘cool’

    The only way to end it is to allow it to bleed out. When the next generation of gentrification comes in, things will be much different.

  14. Mazoola

    Noticed an upsurge in the past few months? Beginning in early March — when Muni routes 14 and 49 were re-routed down South Van Ness from Mission — perhaps? I don’t think you’re seeing a significant rise in the number of women working the street as much as simply a half-block relocation. I know the ones who used to work my little corner of the Mission, 22nd and SVN — the ones who, on occasion, would flag me down, not to ask if I wanted company, but to tell me where they’d seen a space possibly large enough for me to park the truck I drive for a neighborhood charity — must’ve gone *somewhere* after their stroll became an around-the-clock bus stop…

  15. streetlion

    You know what you get when you round up all the hookers in that particular block of Capp St. ?
    ( especially 16th to 17th St. )
    A full set of teeth !

  16. Peso Blackheart

    I was there over 10 years ago and saw the same problem or perhaps worse. Even the cops say the best they can do is tone it down. So, you live in a crime ghetto bo hoo for you. You can tell your son, you can say “Son. That their is a used condom full of puss infested spunk. Don’t touch it son, that sheet will kill ya. See son you mother and I have chosen to live in a permanent crime zone.”

    PS myredbook.com has lot’s more than just
    locations. Reviews, tips and general comradery for those who are in the hobby.

    ttfn

  17. Jay

    18th and 20th St. huh? When I lived there, it was all between 16th and 18th (my doorstep). For those people thinking that these are just “sex workers” trying to make a living, you’re only fooling yourselves. Go talk to one – they will tell you stories that would make William Burroughs shudder.

  18. Mrs. Kravitz

    i miss the days prostitutes hung out on 17th and Capp. if i only knew then that getting rid of them would mean more loud-mouthed drunk, and entitled hipsters everywhere, i would have never complained in the first place. be careful what you wish for.

    • Mrs. Kravitz, I hope you share your perspective with your neighbors and speak out at the next community meeting on this topic, because some people seem to believe that all the noise of drunken revelry they resent is caused by sex workers.

      Either that or they just find those who provide erotic services and their clients a more convenient scapegoat than partiers who provide a livelihood to local bars and clubs.

  19. Bob

    What to do about the hos? Just Dicum.

  20. mission critical

    This is not a moral issue. Regardless of how much you care or don’t care for the well being of sex workers, this is a problem for the community members and their families. I have witnessed this activity on a nightly basis. What Capp Street represents is a storefront for criminal activity. You have drunken/drugged out johns, weapon-wielding pimps, prostitutes using stairwells, front lawns, doorsteps to have sex or defecate, spotters who alert them when a police cruiser drives through. Its comical to see how easily prostitutes, johns and pimps duck and cover out of sight. I’ve seen woman who live in the neighborhood harassed and solicited as if they are also prostitutes.

    I believe that the police’s approach is more of a containment policy; they know its there and happening every single night but they’d rather keep it there rather than have it spill over to other areas. When you call they will express their modest expression of due diligence by sending a patrol car to the area, but even then its just a whistle/duck and cover and then back to business.
    O’Leary’s comments indicate that they’d rather not be bothered by a few complaints by some outlier residents who actually care about the community they live and raise their families in. The response is to call the non emergency number when its happening to have Mission Station call attention to the problem. Why? Is it so data driven that they need to read a spread sheet before taking action on something that is shamefully obvious and in plain sight?

    To all the apologists on this thread – try having your front lawn and doorstep be a toilet and humping station only feet away from your sleeping children, and get propositioned by wired fiends before you romanticize the rights of these sex workers.

    I applaud Greg D. and the neighbors that choose to take a stand against this issue and I hope that Supervisor Campos musters the political will to develop and implement the appropriate solutions in tandem with a motivated police effort and support from the community.

    • So you say it’s not a moral issue. What is it then, in your view, a NIMBY issue?

      Do you think people should be held individually responsible for their actions? Or do you think it’s appropriate to blame all the erotic service providers and their clients for the bad behavior of some?

      If the latter, how would you prefer to be stereotyped yourself? I’m sure you belong to some group that includes some people who do bad things.

  21. LB

    It’s been quite busy on South Van Ness, too. It bothers me that the girls are so young and seem to be threatened on a regular basis by their “pimps”. From what I’ve seen, these are not Bay Area liberal empowered sex workers. These are young girls, some certainly underage, likely brought in from elsewhere and told to get to work or they’ll be “beaten with a switch.” There’s nothing good about that.

  22. Chris

    I don’t doubt the problem is there. SouthVan has way
    more reckless drivers and pros. This sounds like an excuse to shut down Cappp and Shotwell to cars. I hope this is not a ploy to do so as it would shift the problem not solve the problem. Keep public streets open.

  23. An Idea

    As the University of California Police just LOVE giving out tickets in the Mission why not send them in to address this problem or do they only function to give tickets to Taco trucks?

  24. KIki

    as one who lived at 20th & Capp for 10 years, and dealt with used condom disposal (among other things) regularly — 1) the police only make things worse. I have personally witnessed multiple incidences of police treating sex workers on Capp St. far worse than the pimps. 2) sure it’s annoying to clean up someone else’s mess, but the real mess we’re dealing with is the one which criminalizes, marginalizes & abuses women who have few other options (I’d call it Law & Order Capitalism intersected with sexism, racism & the gutting of social welfare programs in this country). 3)the POLICE & the LEGAL system is exactly what puts these women in this position — by arresting & criminalizing them, charging them exorbitant legal fees (yes look it up), blaming, abusing & stigmatizing them for the “crime” of trying to make a little cash to get by — as someone said above, if prostituion were legalized — rather than used as a cash cow for the legal system, thus exploiting them yet again, no surprise — then these women wouldn’t have to rely on pimps to protect them, would have access to services rather than further victimization, would be able to transition out of prostitution if they wanted to, could actually report the violence & crimes committed against THEM. Because instead we stigmatize and police prostitution, they’re forced into these very untenable positions. BY THE LAW.

  25. KIki

    and in response to above “To all the apologists on this thread – try having your front lawn and doorstep be a toilet and humping station only feet away from your sleeping children, and get propositioned by wired fiends before you romanticize the rights of these sex workers.”
    Um yes. I’ve done EXACTLY that. You know what we did? Put a small trash can outside for used condoms. It’s not “romanticizing rights” when you support women’s (even young, undereducated, women-of-color) rights to exist, to make choices about their own lives, to not be harassed or incarcerated for the “crime” of getting by. And yes, whenever I witnessed one of these women in what looked like a threatened position — whether from cops or pimps or strident yuppies — I always stop, watch, and ask her if she wants help. It’s not my position to tell her what she needs.

    • yvonne

      Why not set up a cot in your spare bedroom so she can work there? You could bring tea to her and her customer, and make sure she’s very comfortable — perhaps a post-coital cigarette could be offered.

  26. randolph mortimer

    The comments on this article are as usual full of people convinced that laws don’t matter at all, it’s only important what their personal opinion on things is. I invite you all to witness the failure of the social contract and the American system of government writ large due to an unwarranted sense of self importance and entitlement.

  27. Mister Big

    Greg Corrales did a great job curbing this when he was Captain of Mission Station. Literally one month after he took office, the Capp Street prostitution was all but gone.

    The new guy isn’t up to the task. He lacks the guts and vision that Captain Corrales had. Bring back Corrales!

  28. Chris

    I agree with Mr Big

  29. L

    I don’t feel threatened by the prostitutes – I feel threatened by their clients. Some of them assume any woman walking near there is working a corner.

  30. There is really no reason for these women to a)work the streets or b) have a pimp. I rent a house in a nice neighborhood and I don’t want prostitutes working my street – and I AM a prostitute. We can find work on line nowadays. It’s safer for us, safer for our johns and pimps are unnecessary!

  31. I went to the meeting last night, and it sounds to me like violent AND nonviolent crime in the area has gone down, with violent crime going down significantly. I am perplexed, then, why people feel so afraid, when the crime that seems to be the most prominent is bicycle thefts? Do all the cyclists scare you, as they seem to be bringing criminal activity up..?

    Sex workers who work on the street do so because they often have few other options. They aren’t doing it to piss people off, but because they can’t work indoors. They might have assisted housing that doesn’t allow them to have overnight guests, for example, or they may have roommates or children and can’t bring clients home. They don’t have smartphones and laptops with wifi. Getting clients from internet ads (when free internet places like the library censor adult material) is not hugely practical as solutions go.

    What seems like it would be vastly more useful is increased outreach and respect. Are you really surprised that they don’t respect the neighbors? The neighbors are the ones making threats and trying to make things unsafe for them! I personally have heard multiple accounts of sex workers at best having their assault reports laughed off, and at worst being raped and abused by the police. Working together via sex worker outreach projects might help both the residents AND the sex workers feel heard. Then you might actually solve some of the problems productively.

    • LB

      The girls and their pimps do have phones and are in constant contact with each other. I don’t know what other options they have as far as conducting their business, but conducting their business is not my issue. The issue is with the violence, noise, and crime that has accompanied the uptick in prostitution in the area. From what I can see (which is a fair amount since the pimps have taken to controlling operations from my stoop), this is a small but very tightly controlled operation where threats of violence against the prostitutes are common.

      I will continue to call the police via their non-emergency number and I hope to see the pimps arrested.

    • randolph mortimer

      do you even live in our neighborhood ?

      you seem to have no clue at all about what’s actually going on in it.

      • LB

        I’m assuming you’re speaking to Kitty. I don’t think she does know what’s happening here. I think she’s a sex worker’s rights advocate, so she’s coming at the issue from a very different angle than those who are dealing with the problems happening here.

        For all of those in outreach, please feel free to come sit at the bus stops at 20th/South Van Ness. This is a very high traffic area for prostitution. There are benches there and everything. I would love for these girls to be in safer situations and have other options in their lives besides having pimps threatening to beat them if they don’t work (yep, it’s a stereotype, but I’ve seen it many times here).

Comments are closed.