Sex Worker Advocates, Residents Talk Prostitution

Gregory Dicum presents a petition to increase police patrols on Capp Street to fight upsurge in prostitution.

Gregory Dicum presents a petition to increase police patrols on Capp Street to fight upsurge in prostitution.

En Español.

A recent resurgence in prostitution on Capp Street brought out dozens of people to the monthly police community meeting on Tuesday and triggered a lengthy conversation in front of Captain Robert Moser.

Some residents at the meeting complained about the noise and used condoms they find on the street, and asked for an increase in police presence, while other residents and advocates for sex workers argued that arresting prostitutes isn’t the solution. Most agreed that a conversation needs to happen to clear tensions between residents and sex workers.

Gregory Dicum, who recently spoke to Mission Loc@l about an increase in prostitution on 20th and Capp streets, presented a letter and a petition with 215 signatures to Moser on Tuesday, demanding more police patrols in the area.

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“How many condoms do I have to pick up on my stoop in the morning?” Dicum asked.

More patrols are the solution, Dicum said.

Some residents, such as Monique Moro, who has lived at 20th and Capp streets for 45 years, agreed.

“It’s never been as bad as now,” Moro said. “I never sleep between 2 and 4 a.m. any more.” She explained that her bedroom is right above a corner where prostitutes solicit clients and cars drive by at night.

The tensions between residents and prostitutes aren’t new. The area has long been the neighborhood’s most notorious prostitution hot spot. But until the upsurge in the last few months, prostitution had been on the decline.

When former captain Greg Corrales took over the station in late 2009, Moro came to a community meeting to tell him about the problem, she said. He increased the number of patrols, and that resulted in fewer prostitutes on the block.

Now that fewer officers patrol the area, they’re back, she said.

“I don’t think you’re going to be able to handle it if you don’t attack it now,” Moro told Moser.

“We’ve made 80 arrests this year,” Moser said, referring to arrests on Capp Street. “I want to try to double that.”

Others disagreed that increasing patrols would solve the issue.

“Who are you arresting?” a person in the crowd asked. “Is it the prostitutes, the pimps, or the Johns?”

These terms are part of the problem, some in the audience said.

In a letter addressed to Moser, Dicum read, “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.”

“Could you not call them hookers?” asked a resident in the audience.

Seeing used condoms on the street should make you think, “Hurray, people are having safe sex,” a woman in the audience said.

Using terms such as “hookers” to describe hard-working sex workers is condescending, representatives of the Sex Workers Outreach Program said. If you’re trying to have a conversation to deal with issues such as noise and littering, they said, the first step should be to show respect.

“I consider sex workers to be my neighbors,” said Stephany Ashley, the programs director at St. James Infirmary, an organization that provides health care and social services to sex workers and adult entertainers.

“When you arrest a sex worker, what does it do for her chance to get another job in the future?” Ashley asked.

“I want you to sleep at my apartment and see what’s it like,” Moro said. “This is the first time that I want to move,” She added that the noise makes her life “literally unlivable.”

“I would be happy to come stay at your house if you let me,” said Starchild, a sex worker who works mostly at clients’ homes.

Decriminalizing means fewer people will work on the street, Starchild added.

Dicum and other residents agreed.

“Just the uniform presence would be good, you’d act as a scarecrow,” Dicum said.

“I’d love to have a cop on every corner, but unfortunately I can’t,” Moser said, adding that budget cuts mean he has fewer officers to work with.

“I have nothing personal against them,” Moro said. “It’s sad. Who says, ‘When I grow up I want to be a prostitute’?”

“I don’t think anybody chooses to be a prostitute,” another resident said.

Some in the audience, including sex worker Kitty Stryker, disagreed, saying that they chose this profession.

A former Nike Marketing employee, she decided to become a sex worker, and works mostly with customers with disabilities, such as Asperger’s syndrome. Her job allows her to help people, she explained.

“This is a citywide dialogue,” Moser said, adding that the conversation should come to an end because the meeting was running past its scheduled time.

While there are fewer officers patrolling the area, Moser said, undercover operations are still going on and plainclothes officers are walking the streets. Being creative with your resources is the way you work around bugdet cuts, he said.

“We have to make do with what we have,” he said.

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Filed under: Front Page, Trouble

27 Comments

  1. Dave

    I guess South Van did not rate an invite.

  2. Tiny Tim

    Can we get past the nomenclature, semantics and perceived insults? So let’s just say, sex workers and their clients are conducting their business that is a nuisance to those who reside on these affected streets.
    Issues should be resolved in the same ways that nuisance businesses are dealt with–including police intervention, arbitration boards, neighborhood councils, the courts and whomever can create peace in an expeditious manner.
    Waiting for societal solutions is not going to, anytime soon, help out those whose windows are above the street action or hae to deal with items left on their doorsteps from the aforementioned transactions.
    And Kitty and Starchild can make a contribution by employing/mentoring those who perform their business on public streets and hiring them or setting them up in an entrepreneurial endeavor that involves transacting/servicing in clients’ homes or offices.

    • Tim, no, we can’t get past nomenclature and semantics. The words people use affect how we think about other people and issues. It’s important. So I’m glad you are seeking to use respectful terms that recognize the dignity and validity of those involved in the erotic services trade.

      We can’t get a balanced view of this issue if we just look at this as a matter of solving the problems of those residents that have issues with the side effects or perceived side effects of street prostitution, or see it strictly in terms of regulating a “nuisance business”.

      Sex workers have legitimate issues and concerns too, as Jay describes below. So do clients. Some residents play a role in causing or exacerbating some of those concerns.

      Unfortunately I think somewhat of a history of mutual mistrust and antagonism has developed. I would love to see members of the two groups sit down in a neutral setting, without the intimidating presence of the police, and try to have a dialogue with the aim of learning to respect each other and figuring out how to better get along.

      • lealo

        Fine than do your “sex work” indoors. I don’t care if you sell crack cocaine, just do it in private. Its not appropriate for people to be prosituting, hooking, turning tricks, sex working or whatever else you want to call it on the street. This is a family neighborhood. Do your do indoors.

        UNtil then, I will call the police very time I say a prostitute picking up johns or a pimp slapping a prositutte in public (as happens on Capp street sometimes). Sorry we’re not going to just keep our mouths shut and take it simply because you have some “social justice” entitlement complex. You are breaking the law, we will call the police to enforce. That is the bottom line. You can always go to the Tenderloin where people don’t seem to care….

  3. Peso Blackheart

    well maybe you should put out little doggy bags and buckets the way they do in parks.

  4. Jay

    Calling the women working on Capp St. “sex workers” and their Johns “clients” is sad, sad euphemism of the worst kind. If you think the people out there at 3 am have chosen this life and are thoroughly enjoying it you’re living in a fantasyland. I’ve spoken to these girls – they are addicts, they are runaways, they are mentally ill. They are not entrepreneurs. Many are being abused by their pimps. The irony is that by casting this discussion in terms of just “business”and folks “trying to make a living” these advocates are only whitewashing the true trauma these women are undergoing. Great plan folks.

    • Jay, how do you think insulting and demeaning people with stigmatizing terms is going to make the situation you describe better? I know not every sex worker enjoys her work and wants to be there. Lots of people in lots of professions dislike their jobs. I’m not naive. But some do want to be there, and that is a reality that people have been trying to sweep under the rug for a *long* time. It’s a rationalization for prohibition.

      If you want to reduce trauma, support decriminalization of sex work. Creating a black market around consensual transactions always leads to increased violence and actual crime.

      • Jay

        In fact, I do support decriminalization of sex work. However, the gulf that separates what is happening on Capp in the wee hours and many advocates’ vision of an actual profession is enormous. My point is that validating Capp sex workers as legitimate does not help this cause – it hurts it. Why? Because what’s happening on Capp is much closer to slavery than it is to a “profession.”

        • Jay, I just spoke tonight with two of the young women out there, who gave their names as Jocelyn and Elizabeth. We had a good 15 minute or so conversation, and I wish you could have been there to partake in the dialogue.

          They certainly did not seem unhappy or like slaves to me. In the course of telling them I’m an erotic service provider myself and answering their questions I said I think it’s a great job, and one of them affirmed this by responding rhetorically, “Who *doesn’t* like sex?”

          When I mentioned the recent community meeting discussed in this article, and told them that some area residents were upset about noise at night and litter, one said something like, “Duh, people *shouldn’t* be screaming out here, it’s 3am and people are sleeping.” On the litter, the first comment from one was something like “Where are the trash cans? There should be more trash cans,” and the other responded “There’s one by the bus stop.”

          These responses and the rest of our conversation did not give me the impression that these two sex workers were thoughtless or unsympathetic to legitimate resident concerns. That is notwithstanding at least one of them apparently having the impression that nobody is sympathetic to *them*. When I explained who I was and that there had been people at this meeting at the police station speaking in their defense, she asked in honest surprise, “You mean there’s somebody on our side?” I assured her that there are — lots of folks, in fact.

          By the way, if anyone living around 20th street near Capp and South Van Ness and reading this happened to hear a noise some time around 3am which might have sounded a little bit like a beer bottle hitting the street and bouncing, but slightly more metallic, please don’t blame that on the sex workers — or at least not the ones working outside near where you live. That was me accidentally dropping my metal water bottle when I got into my backpack to give Jocelyn and Elizabeth my card. Ironically it happened just after I’d been telling them it would be a good idea to try to spread the word among people they know to try to keep the noise down, and I was appalled by how loud my water bottle dropping sounded on the otherwise generally quiet and tranquil street. If this incident disturbed your sleep, you have my sincere apologies.

          • lealo

            Legitimate resident concerns are having crime, prostitution, pimping, sex on the street, used condoms on our door steps, etc. in our neighborhood. These are legitimate concerns. Get a room. Its not that hard. There are a dozen cheap motels in the Tenderloin. Have the decency to get a private room rather than trample on our rights with your illegal activity…

          • Dave

            Rooms in the Tenderloin??? That is the worst idea yet.

      • lealo

        I will support decriminalizing it when you get it off the steps of my front door. I’m not going to bargain with a population that is breaking the law and denying my legal rights as part of their usual course of “business.”

  5. Capp Neighbor

    What these women are doing is illegal. Why are we constantly lectured and chastised for wanting a better community. I am sick of hearing of their “rights” and need for respect? How do they respect us, our children and our neighborhood??!! Some of these women are incredibly hostile and do not illicit much sympathy from me anymore….after dealing with their BS…I’m sick of it…enough is enough.

    • “Capp Neighbor”, there are LOTS of things people do that are illegal. Jaywalking, for instance. Failing to signal when you change lines, or making an illegal turn. Using a substance that some government doesn’t want you to use. Failing to fill out your tax forms exactly the way the IRS says you’re supposed to given your income particulars. Failing to report for jury duty, or lying to get out of it. Failing to register for the draft. Downloading pirated music or software.

      I’m sure *you* are perfectly law-abiding and have never committed any of those or many other common illegal acts, but statistically speaking, many of your neighbors have.

      You would not want your neighbors to be stigmatized and insulted for committing one of those acts if they didn’t actually hurt anyone, would you?

      “Some of these women are incredibly hostile” — *Some* is not all. I’m sure “some” residents are also “incredibly hostile” to them too (based on your comments here, it seems possible you may be one of those residents).

      Do you even *want* to have mutual respect with street-based sex workers, or are you simply asserting that they are disrespectful in order to justify your own continued bigotry against them?

    • P.S. – Everyone wants “a better community”. Not everyone defines “better” the same way. But I think there is enough commonality in what people want that by seeking to respect each other’s rights and uphold the Non-Aggression Principle, most of us can get along most of the time.

      • lealo

        Oh I think we can agree that it is better not to have strangers having sex in your doorway? Is that a stretch? What kind of society do you want to live in? I for one would like my stoops, sex free….

      • randolph mortimer

        do you even live in our neighborhood ?

  6. LB

    Unfortunately, last night was another sleepless night due the prostitutes being chased by someone in a white van on multiple occasions. He even drove down South Van Ness on the wrong side of the road screaming at them.

    The three young pimps screamed at the girls on their phones about getting they asses to one point or another while buying and smoking spliffs on my stoop.

    Around 5 am I could here someone being beaten around the corner, yelling at the top of his (?) lungs, “Get off of me, get off of me” over and over for minutes. The police did do a few drive-arounds on that call though I’m not sure they arrived in time.

  7. Kim

    Why is this a Capp St issue? The problem is on Folsom,South Van as well as well as Shotwell along with Capp St.

    Most of the posts make it seem as if it is only going on on Capp St……that street should not get preferential treatment over the other impacted streets.

    Let’s find a solution for all of the affected streets. I hope the next meeting includes the other street residents as well.

    • LB

      I think all of us that live in the neighborhood know that it’s an issue that goes beyond Capp St, but Capp St. has organized a neighborhood group so they will get attention. Shotwell St also has a neighborhood group. I have joined them both even though I live on SVN. I suggest doing the same or creating another group for whatever street you live on. My goal is to address this issue as a neighborhood and not to push the problem a few blocks this way or that. I am thankful for both groups creating hubs of communication and coalescing so that our voices hold more sway with Mission PD.

    • Kim

      Why have two groups when you can have one large group. Why pull the police in two different directions when he can address both groups together?

      This is the first I have heard about your groups. How does one get on the list?

      • LB

        I found out about the Capp St group via the Mission Local article about the resurgence of prostitution then about Shotwell St. from the Capp St group.

    • Henry

      I have spoken to a few Capp St residents and the reason they have their own group is their objective is to have Capp St closed to cars to push the problem away. I really hope that this is not the case.

  8. Chris

    The Fiesta laundry should not be allowed to stay open 24 hrs a day.

    This gives the prostitutes a reason to be at 20th and S.V. anytime. It is a haven for them when they play cat and mouse with the police.

    • Aaron W

      I agree with you, Chris. I’ve seen many people there w/o laundry to do. They hang, and roam around this place… It’s driveway is a quick turn around too, due the two-sided exits and entrance.

  9. Chris

    Let’s FIX the problem not send it to the Tenderloin. I am sure the TL doesn’t want our problems.

Comments are closed.