San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen announced on Thursday that she will be introducing a resolution next week urging state lawmakers to begin work on a bill to legalize prostitution.
Prostitution has been on the rise in San Francisco since last year, with sex workers centralizing around areas of the Mission District. Safety issues and resident concerns have prompted many unusual measures to be installed to combat prostitution, most notably barricading a part of Capp Street in the hopes of diverting sex worker traffic away from the area.
The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) has continued to try and use new tactics, with the barriers becoming the most visible effort to dat. On Tuesday, the SFPD said in a statement that “The Department is aware of the issues of sex workers and the potential of human trafficking on Capp Street. The department is utilizing strategies to stop and disrupt the criminal activity, while being compassionate to those forced into the sex trafficking trade.”
However, with the issue seemingly not going away, Supervisor Ronen raised the stakes on Wednesday by trying to legalize prostitution. Ronen, whose 9th District includes the troubled Mission District, said in a series of statements that she supports legalization and an open red light district, but also acknowledged the many hurdles it faces should it be picked up by a lawmaker.
“I do feel that society’s acceptance and (ability) to get away from the morality issues is growing,” said Ronen. “What’s happening right now on Capp Street is it’s become more brazen, and bigger than we’ve ever seen it before. Instead of repeating the same cycle that we’ve repeated for decades, it’s time to try something new.”
“Figuring out where [a red light district] would be and getting the authorization of the city attorney will not be easy.”
While a state law legalizing the practice would go a long way in creating areas specifically for prostitution in San Francisco and other cities in California, all Ronen can do as a city representative is call for state lawmakers, specifically those representing San Francisco, to bring up such a bill in Sacramento. For Ronen’s district, this means either Assemblyman Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) or Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco).
Proposed legalized prostitution in SF
For such a bill to begin even rolling, it would take a lefter-leaning Democrat to introduce it, as the issue is seen as a non starter and going against constituent wishes, for Republican and more Moderate Democrats. Even in San Francisco, selling the public on legalized prostitution is incredibly difficult.
Proposition K, which would have legalized prostitution in San Francisco starting in 2009, was soundly defeated in the 2008 election, with over 59% of voters voting against it in a high turnout election for Democrats. The proposition proved so unpopular that then-Mayor Gavin Newsom had even rallied against it. Other proposals have not gotten nearly as far, often dying after short discussions in city committees.
While Sen. Weiner has not commented on whether or not he will support a legalized prostitution bill as of Thursday afternoon, Haney, one of the most liberal members of the Assembly, said he would not support such a bill.
“I have no plans to carry a bill that would create a red light district nor have I heard from Supervisor Ronen on that issue,” the Assemblyman said.
With other city leaders not commenting on the issue and city departments, such as the SFPD, being unable to comment on potential legislation, many experts noted on Thursday that the legislation would likely not go forward much farther than a call for a bill proposal.
“Ronen might luck out and get someone in Sacramento to back it, but it is dead in the water,” explained Jim Frisch, a consultant on sex worker and sex trafficking legalization in Washington, DC, to the Globe on Thursday. “Even in California, this is an incredibly hard sell. This did get attention, which may have been her goal, but this is also likely kind of a kickstarter to light a fire underneath people in San Francisco who can help her district on this problem.”
“Threatened legislation sometimes helps bring resources in, as do more out of the box ideas like having documentaries be filmed in your district or other things that get a lot of eyes on the issue. At the heart of it, she wants this issue resolved peacefully and for these workers to be safe. And with residents there afraid at night to leave because of the criminal element and the crime it brings, yeah, they want a solution. But something very unpopular, like legalization, isn’t one. And it seems like most lawmakers and voters in the periphery oft his issue know it.”
Ronen is expected to bring up her resolution in the next Supervisor’s meeting on Tuesday.
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