A quick reading of the measure that will go before San Francisco voters in November to decriminalize prostitution easily could leave you with the misimpression that the measure is an exercise in fairness that demands that prosecutors go after men who abuse prostitutes and implement policies "to reduce institutional violence and discrimination against prostitutes." A careful reading of the initiative, "Enforcement of Laws Related to Prostitution and Sex Workers," however, shows a measure that shields child prostitution and traffickers of human beings.
"If I had just heard from the proponents, I would probably vote for it myself," said the Rev. Glenda Hope, whose San Francisco Network Ministries helped found the Tenderloin AIDS Resource, in the mistaken belief the measure is meant "to protect women." But as the executive director of SafeHouse, a residential center that helps women get off the streets, Hope knows too much.
Hope knows that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14. The office of San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who opposes the initiative, has encountered prostituted children as young as 9 years old.
Yet the San Francisco ballot measure completely ignores the prostitution of children. The measure simply states, "Law enforcement agencies shall not allocate any resources for the investigation and prosecution of prostitutes for prostitution." Astonishingly, there's no exemption that encourages police to enforce the law for minors.
If the measure passes, the city is likely to become an international haven for pimps who peddle girls and boys, and perverts seeking sex with minors.
And where does that leave Bay Area youth? "They want new and young," Jasmine, a former teen prostitute from Oakland who now volunteers for the nonprofit SAGE Project, which fights sexual exploitation, explained to me.
The life, which she entered at age 14, was "like a drug." She felt wanted. She brought in $4,000 to $5,000 a week. Sure, she knew girls who were selling themselves against their will. But she could buy things. "I was supposedly involved in a relationship" -- one that ended when police prosecuted her pimp.
The other big problem: The measure prohibits city law enforcement from applying for grants to prosecute human traffickers. That's right, this measure gives a free pass to the human sex-slave trade -- in a city that is a central stop for international sex-trade rings.
A proponent of the measure told Fox News that she believes that it will pass with 75 percent of the vote because the city is "sex-positive."
The SAGE Project's Allen Wilson fears that the measure may prevail because the city has no shortage of rootless residents who "will vote for this because they think it's cool." For them, San Francisco is "one big sandbox."
Let me be clear. I don't want city cops wasting their time prosecuting workers at the discreet bordello that hires healthy adult prostitutes who get regular medical checkups. I would rather see law enforcement focus on serious crimes.
But there is nothing broad-minded about looking the other way when 14-year-old girls and boys sell themselves on the street and massage parlors are staffed by women who are being held against their will. These are not consenting adults.
The measure takes a tone that suggests it will protect women by demanding that San Francisco law enforcement prosecute "coercion, extortion, battery, rape and violent crimes, regardless of the victim's status as a sex worker."
Of course, state law already requires that. More to the point, battery, rape, assault and even murder are crimes that befall prostitutes because they work in an inherently dangerous field bankrolled largely by men who like to demean women and girls.
Violence and pain are the inevitable outcome for those steeped in this dehumanizing way of life. Young women wooed into the life quickly age to the point where they cannot net the high-incomes their pimps demand. They become addicted to drugs. They learn to commit new crimes. Until the day they find they are disposable.
Or as Wilson noted, "We treat animals better."
So do not tell Jasmine that if San Francisco decriminalizes prostitution, it will do so because the city cares about prostitutes. This measure really is a gift, not so much to so-called sex workers, as to pimps, pedophiles and human traffickers. As Jasmine sees it, if the ballot initiative passes, "That's basically saying the city does not care."