Is the problem on Polk more prostitution, or the fact that the prostitution has travelled north past California where money and political clout have commanded attention?
Just when San Francisco realtors might have thought Polk Street was safe for gentrification pressing in from the north, a reported swell of street trade in sex work may be migrating up from Polk Gulch to the south.
The outcry by neighborhood residents has spurred San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon to suggest a new tactic -- posting a public "facebook" of johns arrested for soliciting sex for money in the hopes of shaming them unless they agree to sit through a class demonizing the sex trade.
Polk Street has long been known as a place where one could find warm company for cash, particularly of the trans variety. Former Bay Area Reporter columnist Mr. Marcus Hernandez once dubbed the neighborhood the "Valley of the Queens" for its abundance of gender-bending culture.
But residents are alleging that after a downswing, the less seemly aspects of criminalized sex work has followed in the wake of a new influx of hustlers and streetwalkers, possibly from out of town including aggressive johns, loud and potentially violent disputes, "pimp-on-pimp" violence and other symptoms typical of populations that have been marginalized into having few other options.
Of course, none of the latest round of media reports have bothered to mention that 41 percent of San Francisco voters supported 2008's Proposition K, which would have decriminalized sex work -- making it less likely that prostitutes would be at the mercy of police, abusive pimps and able to press charges against abusive johns without fear of being arrested themselves, and allow the business to move indoors to sex clubs and other venues.
While the measure failed, it might be time to think again if a more aggressive, heavy-handed approach such as Gascon is recommending is really the right idea. After all, try as we might, the issue clearly isn't going away. At least, not for long, and not without men and women being hurt in the process.
Photo by Chris Yunker.
Jackson West sees this as a failure of economic opportunity for women and trans people, especially of color, not as a problem of overly light policing.