By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

SAN FRANCISCO, October 22, 2008 ( – Voters in this west coast city that celebrates sadomasochism, homosexuality and pornography are being asked to decide whether they would like to become the first major U.S. city to decriminalize prostitution.

Approval of ballot measure Proposition K would effectively decriminalize prostitution in the city by preventing the Police Department from arresting and prosecuting prostitutes; the measure, however, does not go so far as to actually legalize the sex trade because state law still prohibits it.

The San Francisco Chronicle said the measure is being alternately hailed as a human rights landmark or a misguided venture that will turn San Francisco into a playground for sex tourists and pimps.

Proponents say the measure will free up $11 million the police spend each year arresting prostitutes, and allow sex workers to form collectives, the Associated Press reports, while opposition from the mayor, district attorney, police department and much of the business community is based on the reality that legalizing prostitution increases street soliciting, violent crime, drug dealing, assaults, robbery, and sex trafficking.

The SF Chronicle described the global sex trafficking industry as an $8 billion industry in which San Francisco is already a major hub.

Gregory Carlin of the Irish Anti-Trafficking Coalition told in 2007 that the legalization of prostitution just doesn’t work. “No model of ‘prostitution management’, not in Europe, Australia, or New Zealand has ever migrated street prostitution into a viable off-street or brothel model. That is simply not the way prostitution works.”

In many countries where prostitution has been legalized, such as the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Finland and Norway, governments already have or are currently reconsidering their decision after rates of child prostitution, sex trafficking and organized crime increased dramatically.

A study by the Scottish government in 2003 on the consequences of prostitution policies in several countries revealed that those that had legalized and/or regulated prostitution experienced a dramatic increase in all facets of the sex industry, saw an increase in the involvement of organized crime in the sex industry, and found a significant increase in child prostitution, trafficking of women and girls and violence against women.

In 2005, Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, who was at one time quoted in the media as praising the legalization of prostitution, was forced to admit the scheme’s failure.

“Almost five years after the lifting of the brothel ban, we have to acknowledge that the aims of the law have not been reached”, said Cohen, as quoted by NCR. “Lately we’ve received more and more signals that abuse still continues.”

As well as decriminalizing prostitution, approval of Proposition K by San Franciscans would deny funds for the city’s First Offender Prostitution Program, commonly known as “john school,” which allows men who have been arrested for soliciting a prostitute to attend a class on prostitution and pay $1,000 in exchange for the district attorney’s office dropping the misdemeanor charge against them.

Additionally, the SF Chronicle reports the measure would prohibit the city’s Police Department from accepting any federal or state funds to investigate alleged trafficking victims using racial profiling.

City prosecutors said that the measure would cripple human trafficking investigations, which almost exclusively arise from prostitution arrests during raids on brothels that masquerade as Asian massage parlors.

Sweden’s strategy in dealing with prostitution is an example of legislation that experts agree actually works and which has nearly eradicated prostitution in that country.

Sweden in 1999 passed legislation that criminalized the buying of sex, while decriminalizing the selling of sex.

“In Sweden prostitution is regarded as an aspect of male violence against women and children. It is officially acknowledged as a form of exploitation of women and children and constitutes a significant social problem … gender equality will remain unattainable so long as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting them,” says Swedish literature explaining the law.

Jonas Trolle, an inspector with the Stockholm police unit dedicated to combating prostitution said, “The goal is to criminalize the demand side of the equation, the johns, rather than putting emotionally and physically imperiled women behind bars.”

“We have significantly less prostitution than our neighboring countries, even if we take into account the fact that some of it happens underground,” Trolle said in a report in Spiegel. “We only have between 105 and 130 women – both on the Internet and on the street – active (in prostitution) in Stockholm today. In Oslo, it’s 5,000.”

An important aspect of the ban on buying sex is the reduction of the number of foreign women being trafficked into Sweden for sex. The Swedish government estimates that in the last few years only 200 to 400 women and girls have been annually trafficked into Sweden for prostitution, while in neighboring Finland the number is 15,000 to 17,000.