Safer Sex


After unsuccessful attempts to stamp out prostitution, two California cities are looking at the merits of decriminalization.

Last year, the San Diego City Council, at the instigation of Council Member John Hartley, appointed a task force to study how best to combat prostitution. After a year of talking with community residents and experts, the task force is ready to make its recommendations, but Hartley and the rest of the City Council may be surprised at the results.

"If anything, I went into this project thinking, 'We've got to jail them and get tougher,'" says Dale Durbin, chairman of the San Diego Citywide Prostitution Task Force. Although the task force has not made a final decision on its recommendations, he expects one of them to be that the city appoint a new task force to look into decriminalization.

Durbin notes that the criminal status of prostitution may be responsible for putting sex workers on the street. And he says San Diego's law-enforcement resources are squandered on prostitution while crimes against people and property go unaddressed.

For some of the same reasons, San Francisco is creating a task force that will consider decriminalization as one possible policy for dealing with prostitution. "Prostitutes can be arrested twice in the same night," says Jean Paul Semahah, chief aide for City Supervisor Terence Halinan, who proposed the task force. "It's just not an effective and efficient way to deal with the problem." He says Halinan wants the task force to consider decriminalization but does not favor any one policy.

After decriminalization, Semahah says, prostitutes would no longer have to work on the street, where they offend tourists and drive away business. He also argues that decriminalization would improve the safety of prostitutes, noting that the "illegal nature of the activity creates an atmosphere that attracts other types of crime."