Victory! SF Board of Supervisors vote 7 to 4 for a complete audit of the First Offenders Prostitution Program, run by SAGE, SF District Attorney, and SF Police Dept.
by Robyn Few
March 5, 2008
On Tuesday March 4th San Francisco Supervisor Jake McGoldrick was supported by his fellow Board members to have a full audit of the controversial program that has been raining havoc on the street prostitution community since 1996, the First Offenders Prostitution Program (FOPP).
A local ex prostitute and ex drug addict named Norma Hotaling, who had a rap sheet longer than your arm, decided to turn in her high heels and needles. She started working closely with the San Francisco Vice Squad to help get prostitutes off the streets by arresting them and sending them to her new program at SAGE, Standing Against Global Exploitation. Her brain child, the First Offenders Prostitution Program is a shame based program, that you are forced into by the court system. Money taken in by the FOPP is distributed between the SF District Attorney's Office, the SF Police Department and our local non profit, SAGE. The worst news about the program is it has been duplicated in 25 cities around the US.
Once there, if you are a client or 'John' you pay your hefty fine of anywhere from $1000 to $1500. During your visit to SAGE and the FOPP you may be shown pictures of rotting penis's, or perhaps be ridiculed and yelled at by ex hookers. Maybe you will be threatened, because if you don't pay up your fine and be a good student in the program the police will contact your family and tell them all about your arrest.
Unfortunately, this program targets the most marginalized members of the sex worker community, street workers and their clients. The majority of men who are arrested and placed in 'John's School' are men of color who don't speak english. The prostitutes are not given any other choices and are forced by the courts to attend the FOPP. They are sometimes fined anywhere from $500 to $1000, depending on their ability to pay.
Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) has been working with Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, the Erotic Service Providers Union (ESPU) and US Prostitutes Collective (US PROS) to expose the FOPP. For the last few years, the ESPU has requested information through the SF Sunshine Taskforce about the finances and the role of the District Attorneys office in the FOPP. Supervisor McGoldrick has held meetings with the DA and SFPD about the FOPP. He has met countless times with sex workers trying to find out information on the program. To date we have not been given any information. Not even basic info, like how many participate in the program a year, what is their race and gender . Never mind the main question we want to know, where does the money go from the fines and how does that fine money pay for the expensive sting operations that bring in the clients for the program.
The FOPP reeks of corruption and mismanagement. It is time that sex workers fight against discriminating programs that are being run by politicians. We must stop the profiteering by law enforcement and NGO's off the criminalization of prostitution. We should be given choices by the courts to do diversion programs that we choose not programs that we are forced into that separate and stigmatize us from the rest of society. We must decriminalize prostitution so that we are not afraid to ask for help when we are ready to exit the sex industry. We need programs that are not shame based but respect us for the choices that we have made and trust that we will leave the sex industry when we are ready, not when you force us for our own good.