Capp Street between 16th and 17th, dark street with people and streetlamp
Capp Street at night. Photo by Greta Mart.

Kristen DiAngelo is concerned about her colleagues. She says that there’s no replacement for the recently defunct free online network that helped them advertise and schedule appointments with clients. With fewer options available, they’re turning to the streets.

DiAngelo is a career sex worker who, like her colleagues in the industry, has used the website MyRedBook, an online advertising space for erotic service providers. The FBI shut down the site at the end of June as part of a nationwide operation to combat child prostitution, but according to DiAngelo its closure threatens the safety of sex workers who previously relied on it to meet and screen clients.

“I talked to a 68-year-old woman who had a massage business who’s going to go out on the street now,” said DiAngelo, who is also the producer of the documentary American Courtesans. “Because it happened overnight, because so many of these women didn’t think that could ever happen, it’s pretty devastating. It caught so many people off guard.”

Advocacy groups like the Sex Worker’s Outreach Project are concerned the shutdown will result in an increase in street-based prostitution.

Locally, St. James Infirmary provides health services to sex workers and advocates on their behalf. S.t James’ executive director, Stephany Ashley, lives on 17th and Capp streets, on the outskirts of what locals describe as the Mission’s hub of street-based prostitution. It runs along a primarily residential part of Capp Street and a mixed-use stretch of South Van Ness around 20th Street.

Ashley says she has not yet witnessed a surge in street-based prostitution, but predicted that the shutdown of MyRedBook would significantly affect sex workers. Just before the site closed, neighbors had been complaining of a spike in prostitution. Now, Ashley anticipates there could be more.

“It was the only site where you could advertise for free, so the seizure of that site is going to fall unfortunately on more low-income workers, workers who may not be able to afford to take out an expensive ad, and who may now have to turn to more risky methods of working,” Ashley said.

Part of the risk is being arrested, and Ashley pointed out it is easier for police to identify prostitutes in public, and harder to track them down online. According to St. James Infirmary, street-based sex work is linked with higher rates of violence, and sex workers who have been arrested also experience higher rates of violence and higher rates of sexually transmitted infections.

So far, neighbors in the area have not observed a recent spike in street-based prostitution that seems to stem from the RedBook closure, but an upswing from just before the shutdown has had some residents on edge.

Gregory Dicum, chair of the Central Mission Neighborhood Organization’s crime committee, said members of the group have observed a recent increase in street prostitution, and a new shift in activity toward 20th and Capp Street near Shotwell and 21st Street, and no increased police response, though one neighbor said things had been quieter since a community meeting with police in late June.

SFPD data indicates a sharp decrease in incidents in the spring, but only five incidents recorded in all of June, around the time residents complained of a spike in prostitution and a lack of police attention. A total of 31 incidents were recorded in the area from January through the end of June — July data is not yet available.

Another woman in the neighborhood suggested as a potential solution to neighbors’ concerns that sex workers “just respect the neighborhood.”

For St. James director Ashley, the priority in dealing with a potential influx of sex workers from MyRedBook is to keep them safe and mitigate the conflicts around local hotspots, in part by providing practical solutions like increased outreach from service providers and additional trash cans in the area to reduce the temptation to litter. But she, too, cited respectful interactions as an important solutions approach.

“I would like to see neighbors more willing to recognize that the sex workers they are discussing are full human beings who are also their neighbors,” Ashley said, “and to engage with them more like neighbors and less like problems that need to be solved. The problem that needs to be solved is poverty.”

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    1. “I would like to see neighbors … engage with them more like neighbors and less like problems that need to be solved. The problem that needs to be solved is poverty.”

  1. I will send Mission Local a cd with hundreds of images of the Capp st prostitutes on South Van Ness Ave/20 St. Maybe then you will mention it in one of your articles.

  2. We need to legalize this profession immediately. The only ones that don’t want it legal are pimps and prudes. If it were legal, violence and trafficking would go down tenfold. Diseases would also be controlled as regular testing would occur. 85% of the money goes to pimps

    1. ln Scandinavia it is legal for women to sell sex but illegal for men to buy it.

      In the UK girls can legally offer sex for money but they are not allowed to solicit, market or advertise.

      The situation is better in Holland but the sex trade there looks like something out of a Disney movie,

      If the US legalized it, there would be a morass of red tape, rules, regulations, licenses, registration, tax etc. and most of the business would stay off the grid anyway.

      You cannot trust governments to keep their snout out of the trough.

      1. Ah, you are quite the international expert on the topic. Alas, you didn’t mention Switzerland where they recently started providing public spaces for sex workers to do their work.

        You are seriously suggesting that in Scandinavia or Switzerland legalization doesn’t come with rules and regulations? If you cite examples don’t forget to provide the full context. Europe is full or rules which have some thought behind them. Here everything is in theory allowed except when forbidden by law, and Americans are poor lawmakers.

        And why would you care about regulations for sex workers? Unless you’re a service provider in this area ..,

        1. If you thought I was saying that the Scandinavian system was smart, then you are wrong. I think it is ridiculous to make one party to the transaction legal but not the other.

          But yes, in theory decriminalization doesn’t have to come with a ton of rules and regulations. It simply means that you don’t arrest people for doing it. You don’t even have to change any law – just stop enforcing the current law.

          I was arguing against making it a bureaucratic nightmare by quasi-legalizing it in an overbearing nanny-state way.

  3. I was an escort some years ago and was “reviewed” on myredbook. Personally, I am overjoyed it got shut down! I wish it had been shut down years ago when I was in the unfortunate situation of having to work as a prostitute to make ends meet.

    One thing that bugs me about news stories like this is that they keep calling myredbook “a sex work advertising platform.” Myredbook and similar escort review sites around the world are NOT for the benefit of prostitutes to advertise, the are for the benefit of JOHNS to REVIEW the performance of women they pay to cater to their demands. Let’s call it what it IS, please. That myredbook eventually began allowing escorts to advertise was only an incidental thing.

    Myredbook was founded upon, and made the majority of its money from, JOHN MEMBERS (or “hobbyists” as they prefer to call themselves) paying VIP fees so they can get access to more reviews and private forums about where to find women who will allow them to do unsafe acts (like no condom, where to find underage women, etc. YES, MYREDBOOK HAD MANY MEMBERS IN ITS “COMMUNITY” WHO WERE THERE TO SHARE INFO ABOUT GETTING ACCESS TO CHILDREN FOR SEX.). All escort review sites will have that element. It is INHERENT to the prostitution business. You can talk alllllll you want about how “Red” and his team of moderators worked to keep those people from participating on the site but the fact they needed to do that at all should tell you something about the marketplace. All of us “consenting adults” in the “sex work” industry contribute to this.

    Why sex worker activists in the Bay Area are upset about myredbook’s shutdown is beyond me! This is a GOOD thing for escorts. The whole point of an escort review site is to cater to the JOHNS’ DEMANDS to keep prostitute rates low and risks high (the goal of getting a “provider” to do things “bareback”, anal, swallowing semen, licking anus and french kissing, etc. was strongly encouraged and applauded among the site’s “community” of “hobbyists.”).

    The shutdown of myredbook will not drive women into the streets. It will drive the rates back up and they can work without the threat of a REVIEW hanging over them if they don’t suck dick without a condom or tolerate abuse.

    There were plenty of good places to advertise before myredbook undercut them all. Look to those sources to advertise again. It is not very expensive to pay for a monthly ad, or join an escort service. Posting ads for free on a review site like myredbook does not save that much money. I’m sick of people acting like there’s nowhere to work now that myredbook shutdown. I worked in other U.S. cities with no review site and even another country and did FINE. An escort should not rely on a review site alone for business. You will only be taken advantage of. Myredbook had Bay Area escorts by the throat for too many years! It’s amazing how so many of the “activists” have been brainwashed to think myredbook was working in escorts’ interest. It did not.

    The only people who will “suffer” from myredbook shutting down are the most predatory johns who used the site as a database for victims (it is easy to tell who is inexperienced, vulnerable, who will take less money for more abuse, etc. by using an escort review site).

    I met a few of the active sex worker rights women when I worked as an escort and I do not see eye to eye with them. I think their hearts are in the right place but many of them are not representative of the typical prostitute. I think I speak for many escorts when I say this is something you get in to when times are hard and you get desperate. The activist types tend to identify themselves very seriously as “sex workers,” are out and open about it, have a hipster mentality (I’m sooo subversive!) and look down on those of us who are not exactly thrilled with our situation.

    Again, as a former escort who was reviewed on myredbook I am HAPPY it shut down. When I quit working I messaged the moderators to please remove my reviews and photos that their members had shared of me in the message forums but they refused. Once you’re in their database you’re stuck. That site was not friendly to escorts. Good riddance!

    1. Oh thank you for providing that input, Bree. I live on Capp and I heard about the shutdown via a post on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website. I wasn’t entirely in agreement with one of their staff members’ assessment of this MyRedBook shutdown and now I’m thinking that the FBI was justified.

    2. Your reviews must have sucked!! Were you this bitter before your reviews posted, or only as a result?

      1. Before, thanks for asking. I did not enjoy prostitution. Most women don’t. If you do, then hooray for you!!! My reviews didn’t suck, actually. It’s the threat of reviews, the coercive aspect of a review site full of members who want to pay as little as possible for you to put yourself in as much risk as possible. If you can’t understand that, and just say, “oh well you’re just bitter cuz your reviews sucked,” or “you shouldn’t be in the business then,” etc., etc., then again, hooray for you! Be a prostitute until you’re 65, or until the customers stop calling, which will come way sooner than you think, trust me, and accept less and less money for longer and longer time with these guys the older you get, while you develop no career skills. One of my friends almost jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge after being a yay! “sex worker” most of her adult life because when she got into her 50s the “work” was pretty much dried up and she was broke. She had to get a regular job. I’ll say it AGAIN: this is not something most women do as a career, but only when money gets really tight and you’re desperate. A lot of women pay for college and bills and stuff while working as an escort, true. The point being to eventually STOP having to suck fat old men’s dicks for money. But yeah Ashely (if you’re even a woman, I suspect you’re a displaced “hobbyist” with nowhere to post your misogyny now that myredbook shut down, lol!), if you’re an out and proud “sex worker” then you go girl, I guess.

  4. There is one major factual error in this article, that was obviously not checked by the reporter. That is, the prostitutes, pimps and johns that descend on our neighborhood every night are not our neighbors, but rather criminal opportunists from anywhere but out neighborhood (usually Oakland or Richmond, per SFPD records), who take advantage of a history of lax law enforcement in this specific area. None of them live here, and the only respectful interaction they could possibly have with those of us who do is to cease and desist from their nightly unlawful activity.

    Legalize it? Sure. Then regulate it and zone it so that no other neighborhood parent has to see their child interact with a used condom while out for a stroll. Short of that, move it to David Campos’ doorstep and see how he likes it. Any attempt to legitimize this activity in this area is both dishonest and an affront to the hardworking people who actually do live in the neighborhood.

    1. Nobody wants it in any neighborhood! The trouble is that it’s already in most people’s homes whether they know it or not.

      1. But, taking the Mission as an example, there is an area just a couple of blocsk from Capp St. which is still quasi-indistrial in nature and where few people live.

        So if these girls had any consideration, they would move from Capp and 20th to, say, the area between Harrison and Bryant north of 20th where it is largely deserted at night and you wouldn’t be bothering the good people of a residential neighborhood.

        Use some common sense.

        1. Agree. But anybody walking around at night to make a living sucking off porn-addicted dudes from the suburbs and “nice” neighborhoods (you get what I mean) are probably not in a position to be feeling considerate. They need money for drugs or food or bills or whatever badly enough to be doing this at all, I can’t imagine they’re terribly concerned about anyone else’s problems. Besides, they wouldn’t bother to do it if there wasn’t a demand. Lots and lots of men demand access to prostitutes. That’s what I meant by it’s already in most people’s homes if you have a man living in your house.

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