Voters in San Francisco have the choice this year to decriminalize almost all aspects of prostitution. Proposition K would prohibit police officers from investigating or prosecuting prostitution, would eliminate funds for a first-offender program for people caught patronizing prostitutes and would prohibit the city from accepting federal or state money for trafficking programs that involve racial profiling (i.e., Asian "massage" parlors). Advocates say it will free needed police resources to prosecute violent crimes and help spur sex workers to report violent crimes; detractors dislike that it decriminalizes prostitution without regulation and ties law enforcements' hands in regards to trafficking, which often occurs within different ethnic groups.The new Economist takes a look at the different reactions of Europeans to the problems of sex work regulation and trafficking and found that no one has a great solution. In the Netherlands, they legalized brothels in order to attempt to eliminate trafficking and the participation of organized crime — an effect that has yet to be seen in the last eight years. Since women have to work in brothels, they remain subject to exploitation by management. Around the same time, Sweden decriminalized selling sex but criminalized buying it; the country saw a reduction in the numbers of street prostitutes, but sex workers now have a more difficult time vetting clients and clients supposedly aren't willing to report suspected trafficking and are heading overseas to get their paid freak on. All over Europe, countries are tightening their laws, criminalizing the buying of sex and, as we reported earlier, England is even on the verge of making it a separate offense to engage in sex with a woman who it later turns out was trafficked. The only country with as liberal laws on sex work as those Prop K is proposing is New Zealand — in 2003, the country decriminalized prostitution altogether (although without the bit on trafficking and racial profiling). Since then, police report that the number of sex workers appear to be constant and
More than 60% of prostitutes felt they had more power to refuse clients than they did before. The report reckoned that only about 1% of women in the business were under the legal age of 18. And only 4% said they had been pressured into working by someone else.
One of the major differences between the Dutch (and Nevada) experience and the New Zealand one — other than that its isolation appears to mean that trafficking is less of a problem — is that, in New Zealand, most sex workers own their own businesses, so to speak, and that the law is not only designed to encourage sex worker entrepreneurship but, additionally, bans pimping. Another big difference between the New Zealand law and the San Francisco proposal is that the New Zealand law codifies a series of occupation health and safety standards, such as a requirement that condoms (and other barrier methods) be used, a requirement of sex education for all sex workers and a requirement of regular testing and training. It also allows that sex workers can claim worker's comp if they're injured on the job or contract an STI. None of these things are part of the San Francisco proposal, which seems like a bad idea. All of this is to say that it's a thorny problem with no simple solutions but — as with health care and the financial system — maybe rapid and unmonitored deregulation of sex work in San Francisco isn't going to be the boon to sex workers there that Prop K proponents hope, or the anaethma to moral values and law enforcement that opponents fear. Prop K Calls For Decriminalizing Prostitution In San Francisco [SF Chronicle] Regulating The Sex Trade [The Economist] Earlier: UK Suggests That Men Who Patronize Trafficked Prostitutes Be Prosecuted Related: A Guide To Occupational Health And Safety In The New Zealand Sex Industry [New Zealand Occupational Safety & Health Service] Brazil's Government Gives Tips To Prostitutes [Forbes]