Police chief suggests shaming sex customers

Humiliation may be the latest tool for San Francisco police in fighting prostitution.

Police Chief George Gascón wants to publish the mug shots and license plates of those who are caught paying for sex in San Francisco on a Web site or in the media. He also supports the idea of impounding the vehicles of the customers, but said that may take legislative assistance.

“We want to make it really uncomfortable for these people to come to these communities,” Gascón said.

The new strategies are in part a response to complaints from neighborhood groups and merchants along Polk Street and Russian Hill who say they’ve seen more street prostitution in the area. Gascón plans to send more officers, uniformed and undercover, to the area in a crackdown.

Dawn Trennert, chair of the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association, said residents are seeing a lot of activity after 1:30 a.m. There are four or more prostitutes on street corners. Several cars drive around the neighborhood; pimps loiter and sometimes prostitutes use bars to find business. The sex workers also bring other elements of crime.

“It brings in a lot of drug dealing,” Trennert said. “It’s a breeding ground for a lot of unwelcome activity.”

A lot of the crime normally associated with the Tenderloin has migrated toward Russian Hill, said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who represents the area. While Chiu has asked for more presence in the area, he doesn’t necessarily endorse the idea of posting pictures of those who would pay for sex.

In a city where more than 40 percent of the electorate voted to legalize prostitution in 2008, Gascón is already facing some opposition to his

Increasing enforcement can make the oldest profession more dangerous for sex workers, said Carol Leigh, a member of the Sex Workers Outreach Project. Sex workers have to make decisions about their customers to remain safe. Less time to determine if someone is dangerous means more risk.

“I’ve seen so many different campaigns to try and shame and punish people involved in prostitution, and all it does is drive sex workers underground,” Leigh said.


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