The following text appears in the pamphlet RMN often distributes in person.
POINTS OF UNITY – Drafted and agreed upon by RMN Members in 2019
- We’re here as neighbors and we affirm our right to have a future in the Mission.
- We affirm all people’s right to use public space like sidewalks, streets, parks, and transit zones.
- We support community and individual self-determination, and we affirm that people who live or work on the streets are members of the community. The community includes anyone who wants to be part of it. We reject the primacy of people with a fixed address in our conception of community.
- We affirm that discussions of safety and quality of life should prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable: those living and working on the streets. Safety and quality of life are not the exclusive property of those with fixed addresses, who already enjoy greater levels of safety.
- We assert that sex work is work, and that sex workers are entitled to the same rights and protections and subject to the same constraints and even privileges as other workers making choices about their bodies and their labor under capitalism.
- We reject the stigmatization of sex work on any and all grounds.
- We do not believe the police create safer conditions for sex workers or anyone.
- We are intersectional feminists, so we prioritize communities most vulnerable to state and social violence by systems of racism, classism, immigration discrimination, and gender discrimination. We reject approaches to sex work legislation that use women’s or children’s safety as a way to deny resources to those same populations.
- We are against homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, state violence, and prisons.
- We’re an independent community-based organization and we’ll remain financially independent in order to best advocate for and prioritize the needs of our community.
- We oppose the Sex Work Abatement Unit at Mission PD and any such vice-related operations, and we want them dissolved! We want its and any such budget reallocated to the communities they’re policing.
- We demand city resources for public health including safe housing and medical care.
- We advocate for full and unequivocal decriminalization of sex work, NOT regulation.
WHAT WE KNOW
Increased poverty, inequality, rising rents, and repressive laws have led to an increase in homelessness and street sex work as well as an increase in neighbors demanding solutions. Street-based sex work has increased as rents have skyrocketed in the Bay Area over the past few years. Mission Local covered a series of Mission Precinct police community meetings in which neighbors urged police to more aggressively patrol Shotwell and Capp Streets. RMN formed to demand non-policing responses.
Criminalizing sex workers and their clients is locally, nationally, and internationally recognized as harmful. In December 2017 the SFPD and DA’s Office agreed to not arrest or prosecute sex workers when reporting a violent crime under the Prioritizing Safety for Sex Workers policies. This legislation inspired the state level bill AB 2243, authored by CA-43 Assemblymember Laura Friedman and signed by Governor Jerry Brown in June of 2018. Amnesty International and the DecrimNY movement agree that criminalizing sex work, including criminalizing clients, makes it more dangerous for workers.
Recent US FOSTA/SESTA legislation violates sex worker safety and First Amendment rights. On April 11, 2018, President Trump signed the bipartisan Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). Although these laws purported to “make it illegal to knowingly assist, facilitate, or support sex trafficking,” and make web content providers liable for sex trafficking on their sites, SESTA/FOSTA have been widely criticized for infringing on the First Amendment and criminalizing sex workers who are not being trafficked. The closure of Backpage and Craigslist Personals later in April 2018 precipitated a crisis among sex workers who used these sites to find clients in a safe and controlled way, pushing more sex workers onto the streets and increasing their vulnerability. Economics research found that the initial creation of Craigslist personals lowered rates of homicides of all females by 17%. Bay Area Congressman Ro Khanna is now calling for a NIH inquiry into the public health impacts of SESTA/FOSTA on sex workers.
Despite the research and policy, policing of sex workers in the Mission is on the rise. On August 28, 2018, Mission Police Station Community meeting, Captain Gaetano Caltagirone announced the creation of a “Sex Worker Abatement Task Force” to work with the Law Enforcement Assistance Diversion (LEAD) program to aggressively arrest sex workers and their clients along Shotwell and Capp Streets, partly in response to requests from anti-sex work neighbors. City officials are also pushing legislation that would enable them to harass and surveill massage parlor workers. Yet in a private meeting RMN members attended between the captain and representatives from St. James Infirmary and the Department of the Status of Women, Captain Caltagirone denied the Abatement Unit even exists. We need to hold the Police Department accountable for their lack of transparency and their unilateral increase in policing of sex workers.
Police do not make the neighborhood or sex workers safer. A May 2019 article in Mission Local centered primarily on the mission police station demonstrated how police responding to incidents of sexual assault have regularly mishandled and in many ways made things worse. “Multiple sexual assault survivors told Mission Local that the SFPD investigators assigned to their cases have treated them as though they were the criminals and failed to collect evidence.”
According to Amnesty International, the so-called “Nordic model” or “end demand” model, which criminalizes sex work clients (“johns”), still harms sex workers. Arresting clients starves sex workers of their business. It also creates stigma around sex work and conflates consentual sex work with trafficking, painting all consenting sex work transactions as violent, thus occluding real violence. Arresting clients is also an intersectional issue–anecdotally, RMN has heard that clients in the Mission are sometimes undocumented workers with families far from home, who are at risk of incarceration or deportation if they are arrested.
Social work and policing should be separate. In the last two years, Mission PD has engaged a program called LEAD to try to “divert” sex workers from the sex trade. However, under this program sex workers are still arrested and their non-prosecution is then made contingent on their cooperation in state-supervised social work programs. Bay Area sex workers and advocates have rejected LEAD as giving more power to police departments with records of harm toward sex workers.
There are alternatives to policing that make things better for everyone, especially houseless neighbors and street-based sex workers. San Francisco organizations such as St James Infirmary, the Coalition on Homelessness, and others have decades of experience supporting these populations and reflect an approach of integrating populations from all backgrounds into our community to the benefit of all people. In Dallas, a recent program to dispatch social workers to mental-health-related 911 calls is lowering populations in psychiatric care and increasing public confidence in emergency response.
This city has the resources to house everyone sustainably and safely. San Francisco, as one of the wealthiest cities in the world, could easily provide everyone with safe and secure housing. Utah’s “housing first” policy reduced homelessness by 91% by providing housing with no strings attached, but these successes were reversed when the state stopped funding the policy in 2015. Like other dangerous, low-wage work, entering sex work is shaped by poverty more than anything else.