GREAT ARTICLE on the Berkeley Ballot measure to decriminalize. As I have often said, including to the backers, this has no chance of passing since it includes street hookers. If all the energy doomed to failure would have been directed to private outcall and incall it would have probably had a good chance of passing. This article is outstanding in reflecting my views. Unfortunately most of the sexworker advocates insist on a all or none approach to get ALL prostitution decriminalized. That will never happen for very good reasons since citizens will not and should not accept street hookers in their neighborhoods, unless in agreed to areas of tolerance as in a few countries.

Why prostitution initiative misses
Measure Q in Berkeley fails on 3 counts
September 26, 2004

Berkeley's Measure Q on the November ballot seeks to make enforcement of all prostitution laws the lowest priority of Berkeley's police department, and instructs city officials to lobby the state government to repeal such laws. The measure is welcome because it is generating serious public debate about prostitution policy -- something that seldom happens in America. Unfortunately, it is the wrong choice for Berkeley and for any other city in the country -- for at least three reasons.

First, the initiative rests on some dubious claims. The authors of the measure try to justify it by invoking privacy rights, claiming that it is not the law's business to control what people do "in private." Street prostitution is hardly a private affair. Both the initial transaction and often the sex act itself takes place in public.

Moreover, street prostitution is far from innocuous. In cities throughout the country, it is associated with a host of problems -- not only sex acts in public places, but also disorderly conduct, harassment of local women by johns and pimps, and violence against the workers.

These problems help explain why residents living near San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley are up in arms over Measure Q. Last year, Berkeley police received 294 calls from residents complaining about street prostitution in their neighborhoods. Street prostitution is not a "victimless crime" -- it victimizes the host communities as well as the sex workers. Removing criminal penalties will only make the problem worse.

Second, Measure Q is designed to "help stop violence against women." This is a noble goal. But there is nothing in the initiative that will reduce the risk to workers of assault, rape, robbery and other types of victimization. Measure Q does only one thing: It instructs police to treat prostitution as a low-priority offense. Robyn Few, a convicted prostitute and the inspiration for Measure Q, and other backers of the initiative seem to assume that workers will be more inclined to report victimization to the police, but this is only likely once prostitution is thoroughly de-stigmatized and normalized, which no ballot measure can accomplish.

Indoors is different

Third, Measure Q ignores a crucial distinction made by researchers -- the difference between street prostitution and indoor prostitution. Indoor prostitutes include people who work for escort agencies and massage parlors, as well as independent call girls. Although both types involve sex-for-sale, they also differ in important ways. Indoor prostitution typically involves much less exploitation, much less risk of violence, more control over working conditions, more job satisfaction, and higher self-esteem. Indoor prostitution also has far less impact, if any, on the surrounding community than the street trade. This is not to romanticize indoor work, but studies clearly indicate that street prostitution is much more of a problem.

I have advocated a "two-track policy" with regard to prostitution. Track One is devoted to street prostitution, and holds that law enforcement on the streets should be intensified, not relaxed. In most cities, including Berkeley, arrests are sporadic and the penalties are mild. Arrests need to be sustained and carry meaningful sanctions, both for the prostitutes and the johns. And instead of fines or a short jail sentence, community service is more appropriate.

But increased law enforcement is only the first step. What happens afterward is equally important. What is needed is a comprehensive program of counseling, housing, job training, health care, and other needed services for street workers, many of whom desperately want to leave the sex trade. Unfortunately, most cities provide very few alternatives to prostitution. The prevailing approach is punitive, not rehabilitative.

Busting massage parlors

Track Two involves indoor prostitution, and it is here that Measure Q makes a lot of sense. Many cities, but not all, devote enormous resources to combating escort services and to busting massage parlors -- even though citizens rarely complain about this indoor commerce. Some cities spend as much as half their vice budget on the indoor trade, and such operations typically involve elaborate, time-consuming stings to entrap the workers. Louisville, Ky. , for example, has recently spent a great deal of time and money on an undercover investigation of massage parlors, and the federal government has conducted its own stings in several states. Cracking down on discrete, indoor prostitution often has the unintended effect of increasing the number of streetwalkers, thus exacerbating the most dangerous side of the sex trade.

Unwritten policy needed

The Berkeley police, and other police departments, should adopt an unwritten policy of nonenforcement against indoor prostitution. In some cities, this de facto decriminalization is already standard practice, and it is a sensible policy. It has the advantage of freeing up resources to deal with the more pressing problems on the street. As San Francisco's blue-ribbon Committee on Crime concluded more than 30 years ago, "Keeping prostitutes off the streets may be aided by tolerating them off the streets." Two Canadian commissions have reached the same conclusion. (In Canada while outcall is perfectly legal, the 1850's bawdy house law is still on the books, although seldom enforced unless suspect under aged, illegals, drugs or neighbor complaints)

Any such policy change should be done without fanfare. A public announcement that the city has decided to take a "hands off" approach to indoor prostitution might attract outside workers and clients into the city. This also means that Berkeley city officials should not be involved in lobbying the state government for changes in prostitution law. Measure Q states that the "City Council is directed to lobby in favor of the repeal of these laws." This is not the job of city officials. Activists, such as those behind Measure Q, have every right to lobby state legislators on their own.

Ronald Weitzer is professor of sociology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and the author of "Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry.''


As "Counsel" of C4P - The California group Citizens 4 Privacy says, "The public is not opposed to decriminalizing that which goes on behind closed doors out of the public view. They are very opposed to having their faces rubbed in it, which is the impact caused by street prostitution and its attendant problems (drugs, pimps in the street, local residents' teenage daughters being harassed by guys on the cruise, etc.).

SWOP's vision got tested, and crushed, even in the People's Republic of Berkeley in the Measure Q debacle, precisely because the city fathers and mothers were able to paint a picture of Berkeley becoming a magnet for street prostitutes The poll said we more or less have the public with us (over 50% in every region of the state) on the privately conducted prostitution issue.

SWOP's position has a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding in a statewide effort not confined to the liberal bastions of San Francisco and Berkeley (where it has already shown it couldn't even muster 40% of the vote)."

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