Dear Hillary (Ronen),
I am writing in regards to a recent article in the Bay Area Reporter in which you were quoted about efforts to address sex work in San Francisco.
I assume you did not do this out of any malicious intent, and that it was simply a matter of not being aware of the politically correct term, but I noticed a quote from you in which clients of sex workers are referred to as “johns”, and wanted to let you know that this terminology is considered offensive by many sex workers and our clients.
We want our clients to be called clients, just as the clients of other professionals are, and not by a slang or “street” term which is demeaning and implies that they are all men, which is not the case. As a sex worker, I have clients who are female, transgender, and couples, as well as men. Please avoid use of the term “john” in future public comments!
I also wanted to emphasize that the overwhelming majority of us do this work by choice, preferring it over the other options realistically available to us, just as is the case for most people in most occupations (i.e. many sex workers like many other people might prefer to be a film director, or pop star, or artist, or writer, or president of the United States, etc., but prefer what we are doing over our other practical options for earning a living). By and large we do not need special protections from our clients or managers, or yet another government program, but simply for our work to be decriminalized so that we can go to the police without fear in cases where someone is threatening or abusing us.
There is a growing consensus among human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, LGBT groups like Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center, and others, that the criminalization of prostitution violates human rights, and there is a federal court case (ESPLERP v. Gascon) right now working its way through the courts to overturn California’s anti-prostitution law on Constitutional right-to-privacy grounds.
Meanwhile there is no community consensus behind any outreach or program that operates from the premise of most sex workers, clients, or managers being victims, criminals, and/or minors. These are dangerous and offensive stereotypes not based on reality. As our 2008 ballot measure Proposition K showed, nearly 42% of San Franciscans favor decriminalizing prostitution entirely. In your district, of course, the number was not 42%, but much higher. So we would like your support as a supervisor to be a true leader and push for decriminalization, and to seek an end to the futile and harmful police sting operations that cannot and will not solve the problems created by prohibition.
The reality is that the overwhelming majority of people who trade sexual services for money, or vice-versa, are consenting adults who are harming no one. As was once the case (and still is in many parts of the world) with LGBTQ people, whom many of us are, our greatest needs are to be protected from legal persecution, and for members of the public to learn to respect and tolerate us as their friends, neighbors, family members, etc., rather than reacting with fear, bigotry, intolerance, or misguided paternalistic attempts to “help” us against our will.
So while we appreciate your concern about female sex workers facing violence on the street, and the concerns of neighbors who see these incidents as a public nuisance, it is vital that you and your colleagues recognize that these circumstances are caused by our criminalization and marginalization, and that those are the things which need to change in order for the situation to improve!
Love & Liberty,
((( starchild )))
Sex Workers Outreach Project /
Erotic Service Providers Union