San Francisco’s strategy for reducing prostitution by focusing on the men who solicit prostitutes is inefficient, costly and behind the times, according to a city audit presented at the Government Audit and Oversight Committee meeting on Thursday.

“The program does not provide for long-term care or accountability,” said Severin Campbell of the Budget Analysts Office, “and at the end of the day we don’t know if it helps women leave prostitution.”

The audit, which assessed the San Francisco First Time Offender Prostitution Program, found that its annual deficit has run as high as $105,993  in the past three years. The cost of the program is supposed to be covered by fines collected from men who are arrested in sting operations, but that hasn’t happened.

But the district attorney’s office says it’s still cheaper than prosecuting offenders.

“If you consider the alternative then the program actually becomes very cost effective,” said Paul Anderson, chief of administration in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office.

Currently offenders pay fees of up to $1,000 on a sliding scale, however the audit revealed that they would need to pay nearly twice that amount to keep the program solvent.

Aside from budgetary issues, the program, “lacks a single document, such as a mission statement or strategic plan, that defines the specific purpose of [the First Offender Prostitution Program] and the goals to be achieved,” the audit report concluded.

Working in conjunction with the police department, the district attorney’s office uses the program to target men who solicit prostitutes during decoy operations. Instead of prosecution, the men are sent to a one-day class designed to educate them on the ills of the sex trade.

Police conduct around 100 sting operations in San Francisco each year, but the number of arrests has slipped by 41 percent since 2005.

That’s because prostitution has moved online, according to the audit.

“Neither the district attorney nor the police department has considered that prostitution has moved from the street to the Internet,” said Campbell.

The police department conducted four internet sting operations in 2008.

It’s unclear what the public thinks about the city’s approach to the sex trade. Last November San Francisco turned down Measure K, which would have legalized prostitution. However 41 percent of voters did support the measure.

Supervisor Carmen Chu and Mayor Gavin Newsom introduced legislation earlier this year that would target massage parlors. The move came in response to public outcry over storefront brothels in the Sunset District. It has yet to be approved.

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Born and raised in Seal Beach, California, Heather Duthie studied Political Science and Community Studies as an undergraduate. She went on to work on a number of documentary films and for Link Television. She has lived in the Mission District for the past 5 years, and currently covers government for Mission Loc@l.

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