Mission Station Capt. Gaetano Caltagirone, seen here in 2017, found himself assailed by questions of Dolores Park drug-use, unruly homeless behavior, and street prostitution at last night's community meeting. Photo by Lydia Chávez

At last night’s monthly community meeting at Mission Police Station, Captain Gaetano Caltagirone addressed an uptick in burglaries, car break-ins and overall crime in the district. But before the floor could open up to the concerns of the citizenry (and their accompanying dogs), Caltagirone announced the initiation of a “Sex Worker Abatement Unit.”

The unit, he said, is already in operation. Upon hearing this, one attendee spoke out in immediate support.

“It’s like night and day,” she said. “Whatever you are doing, please keep it up. It’s becoming like a residential area again.”

Residents living along Shotwell and Capp Streets have long been clamoring for enhanced patrols and police interdiction to stem prostitution on their doorstops.

And at Tuesday’s meeting, Caltagirone said the new unit was formed as a result of the complaints he received last month. The Sex Worker Abatement Unit, he continued, has already registered some arrests. Some 20 officers applied, but only four were selected, he noted.

According to Caltagirone, the unit has arrested “Johns” — men soliciting prostitutes — as well as pimps. Any ensnared sex workers, he said, have been offered services and assistance in getting out of the sex trade. These so-called LEADS — Law Enforcement Assistance Diversion — social programs will be offered instead of the usual arrest and citation process. Rather than a trip in the paddy wagon, one officer said, a car ride to the station and a social-worker visit are offered.

This initiative, he said, was modeled after a pilot program in Seattle.

“Every time we encounter a sex worker, we ask them, ‘Do you have a pimp? Do you want to get out of this business?’” Caltagirone said.

This news was, by and large, well-received by the meeting attendees. A few people did express concerns that renewed attempts at prosecuting and enforcing laws along the two streets would unfairly target low-income people of color. The captain countered that the unit’s arrests covered a “wide range” of solicitors.

Tessa Brown, a Mission resident, pinned the rise of street prostitution on the closures of popular personal websites like Backpage, which ostensibly drove activity into the streets.

“I just wanted to push back at the idea that all neighbors agree that we should be arresting all sex workers and more clients of sex workers,” Brown said.

Instead, Brown suggested that decriminalization of sex work would reduce crime along those streets. Another attendee, Aaron Sunshine, chimed in and suggested the police ease up.

“Let’s just leave the sex workers alone,” Sunshine said.

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  1. I’d take 10 hookers, for every 1 strung out “homeless” person. At least they are contributing to the economy. The vagrants (homelessness is a symptom, not the cause) just cause toxic bad energy for everyone forced to witness their decay.

  2. “The Seattle Model” they refer to that the Mission is now following is nothing more than multi-millionaire Texas Oil Baroness Swanee Hunt paying off law enforcement and hijacking the local media to push her prohibitionist agenda at the cost of sex workers and their clients.


    And what has the result been? Immigrant women in Seattle now being targeted and raped because they know the crimes will not be reported due to stigma and extreme decriminalization:


    If you want to pursue the Seattle Sex worker rape model against immigrant sex workers pursued by law enforcement in Seattle that is certainly your right, but that seems like a high price for the marginalized to pay because you have a trash problem outside your door.

  3. We need to legalize sex work – why are we still being regressive and reactionary about this? It’s been done before in Europe (Netherlands, Belgium, …) with good results. It’s a job that doesn’t hurt anybody. Keeping it illegal is what opens the door to all the misery of trafficking and other nuisance.

    1. The vast majority of sex workers demand decriminalization: for sex work to be treated just as most other forms of occupations. The legalization model leads to increased scrutiny on sex working communities through regulations, records keeping, and forced testing. It’s like a state mandated “scarlet letter” that would effect marginalized sex workers, and particularly undocumented sex workers. Sex workers don’t need state regulations upon them to make sure they are working safely, they need full decriminalization to allow them access to occupational health and safety resources.

  4. While I know this is going to be an extremely unpopular opinion, as a sex worker I want to point out that the vast majority of clients are actually just sweet, lonely guys who are looking for some sexy companionship and are willing to pay for it. The idea that it’s somehow a ‘win’ to be arresting them (and also making it impossible for so many of these women to earn a living… like it or not, this IS how they pay their bills) is extremely short-sighted. For those who truly are being trafficked or coerced and/ or want to stop doing sex work, I know for a fact that there are better ways to offer services and ways out of the life than threat of arrest and being forced to testify against someone who they may very well be in love with.

    These things are so much more complicated than they are portrayed in the media. I’ve been deeply involved in sex worker communities for more than a decade, as both a worker myself and more recently, as a service provider to others in the industry (I still see clients though). Please, for once, be willing to ask those of us who are most directly impacted whether policing is actually what is needed, or if this solution is simply a way to get the ugly sight of the failure of capitalism out of the faces of the ‘good liberals’ who paid a lot of money to live in a ‘diverse neighborhood’ and don’t want to be bothered by the sight of us.

    If you bothered to ask, you would resoundingly hear that it’s not sexual labor that is the issue, but the lack of safe, affordable ways to do it. Decriminalization of sex work would mean that we could open up clean, safe, affordable venues to meet our clients in. It would mean we could advertise from the comfort and safety of our homes rather than in the terrifying vulnerability of the streets. It would mean that we could regulate our own industry and organize for our rights as workers out in the open, calling out traffickers and offering real, peer-based support to victims. But that would first mean collectively acknowledging that a) It is no longer the 18th century and it’s not ok to tell consenting adults what to do with their bodies; b) some people (including me) actually enjoy doing sex work; c) nearly all labor is coercive under our current capitalist system d) harm reduction is more important and effective at keeping both individuals and societies safe from violence and disease.

    But you probably won’t bother to ask.

    1. I live in the neighborhood and have heard these arguments before. Some counter points:

      -The Johns in this area cause a lot of property damage due to intoxicated driving.

      -The Johns in this area often harass and solicit locals who have nothing to do with sex work.

      -The sex workers in the area are from the East Bay and are not locals “trying to get by”.

      -The sex workers are trafficked in by gangs and pimps who commit violence over the territory

      -The sex workers and Johns trash the neighborhood by leaving used condoms and drug paraphernalia in doorways every night

      -The neighborhood is by and large not against consensual sex work, but this is not what is happening here

      Please do not provide a cover for non consensual and dangerous activities.

      1. Criminalizing sex work in the mission makes those women more vulnerable and subject to violence. Are you comfortable with endangering them in order to reduce noise and other very basic common aspects of living in a city?

        you make a lot of false statements, stick to what you know: noise and trash annoy you. YOu want to fix that? think about how to do that in way that doesn’t harm other people. Or move.

      2. I live in the neighborhood, too, and these are some very false statements! Capp and Shotwell are beautiful streets that deal with comparable levels of violence and “trash” as other sections of the Mission. Sex workers and their clients are human beings who have worked on these blocks longer than I’ve been alive. The vast majority of sex work IS consensual, and the best way to help women trapped in bad situations is by decriminalizing sex work and providing a robust safety net.

        I urge my Mission neighbors to support full decriminalization and non-police responses to sex work in the Mission.

        Perceptor — are you willing to arrest mothers and fathers because of your misguided belief that sticking people in jail will decrease the number of condoms on your street? Please.

        1. This is probably too late to add anything meaningful to the dialogue here, but just to get it on the record.

          Please stop conflating sex workers rights directly with neighborhood problems. They are not mutually exclusive. I’d hazard a guess that if you took a poll in this neighborhood a decent majority would be in favor of decriminalization of sex work, including myself.

          A push to end sex trafficking in the neighborhood does not imply a persecution campaign targeting sex workers. If I had a legal brothel operating next door to me that had a noise/traffic/trash issue, I would speak to ownership directly about it, no differently than any other neighbor or business. That conversation cannot happen with gangs or pimps, who are a reality in this neighborhood.

          I would dispute that Shotwell and Capp experience comparable levels of violence as the rest of the Mission, at least with respect to root cause. In the past two years in the Shotwell/Capp corridor there have been several shootings, a murder, and an abduction that have all been directly tied to non-local pimps & sex trafficking. The Mission may have violence issues elsewhere but the sex trafficking violence is rooted in Shotwell/Capp.

          Casting a “pearl-clutching” stereotype on my neighbors and I who are unhappy with the prostitution situation is an easy cop-out. There’s a lot more nuance than that. Those of us that take the time to complain care about the community, we live here in the Mission, we support our neighbors and local businesses, embrace a multi-cultural environment, and we aren’t Ellis-Acting people out of our their homes. Those of us that take the time to complain are not chanting for simplistic solutions to sex work like “just lock them up”.

          I understand that sex workers have been persecuted in the past and that their rights are generally under-represented. However I do believe that the positives of defending sex worker rights from criminalization have come with the negatives of creating an environment where some women are trafficked and ultimately harmed.

    2. “ugly sight of the failure of capitalism”. How is this a failure of capitalism? Sex workers are entrepreneurs and the price of your work is deterined by the demand for your services. You are the definition of caitalism. There is not a government telling you how to set your prices or give a minimum wage. The failure is not legalizing prostituion across the country. Sex work gives many women a way out from poverty, abuse etc… Sex trafficing and domestic abuse happens because these women have to work in the shadows. Look at Nevada as a case study. Less abuse, stds, trafficking and they can even get employee benefits!

      When are we going to start treating woman as equals vs treating them as victims that are stupid, helpless, and weak? Me too movement, where are you on this issue?

      That being said, if your were hooking in hotels rooms, your house, other peoples homes, massage parlors, or other inside loacations it would be different. It’s not the sex for money people care about in the Mission Neighborhood. It’s the noise, violence, and used condoms. You cause a nuisances just like a neighbor throwing loud parties at night, every night, and not cleaning after themselves.

    3. Sex trade trade is negatively impacting our community. Period. We shouldn’t have to be subjected to it, regardless of your defense of the “sweet lonely guys” who are customers and the still illegal business they are supporting. Customers, pimps and hookers are all part of the problem and we don’t have to tolerate any of it. I’m all for helping the enslaved hookers who want to move on…but the rest of the equation needs consequences.

    4. Chloe…..thank you for your valuable insight. I lived in the Mission for almost a decade and never really had a huge problem with the working girls. If they’re being exploited and trafficked, sure. But otherwise, the only harm done was to the new (ahem!) neoliberal homeowners in the Mission who were worried about their property values.

    5. I live on Capp Street. While I have nothing against sex work, I don’t want ti on a residential street with the accompanying crime, used condoms, and screams in the night. I’m all for enforcement against sex work on residential streets.

  5. Any legislation to “decriminalize” prostitution in SF should be titled either the “Pimps and Trafficers Full Employment Act” or the “Chinese Women’s Enslavement Act.”

  6. What if the City started up a municipal version of Backpage and Rentboy to bring the sex workers in from the cold again?

    1. It would lead to the same trafficing in the bodies of immigrants and children that led to them being shut down. We’d be in effect putting SF in the pimping, pandering and human exploitation business.

    2. We’d be in the pimping pandering and the sexual exploitation of immigrants and children business