Sex Industry and Massage Parlor Workers Protest Police Harassment and Abuse

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Carol Leigh (
Fri, 13 Nov 1998 10:48:26 -0800

Prostitutes' Education Network
Box 210256
San Francisco, CA 94121

Sex Industry and Massage Parlor Workers
Protest Police Harassment and Abuse

Our network has been receiving escalating reports of police misconduct in
the context of recent massage, strip club and lingerie studio busts in San
Francisco. Reports range from physical abuse and sexual exploitation by
police, to police rummaging through purses and pocketing money of women, to
a system of bribes paid to police which gives some businesses a protective
status, while others become frequent targets for arrests.

Arrest priorities began with the most vulnerable individuals. Street
walkers were the original targets, and now police have been concentrating
on massage businesses. Massage workers and owners are Asian women,
primarily refugees and legal immigrants. News reports have cited issues of
trafficking and child prostitution, despite the fact there has been no
proof, and no arrests on that basis. Below is a list of recent issues and
reports we have received concerning the escalating prostitution arrests.

* The media surrounding the arrests has been one sided, emphasizing that
women have been 'saved or rescued' from prostitution. In many cases, the
opposite is true. Those who will be convicted of prostitution can have a
mark on their record that may prevent them from finding other work.
* Many sex industry workers are there by choice, and do not feel that the
government has a right to go into their bedrooms and entrap them into
accepting money for sex. These arrests can be extremely traumatic.
Diversion programs meant to rescue prostitutes can also be demeaning and
insulting to some women. Rather than being 'saved' they are being violated
and abused, paid for by tax dollars.
* Media reports have mentioned that 'trafficking' and employment of
children in the sex industry are factors in the recent crackdown, although
there has been no proof whatsoever. The employees are being penalized
because of these rumors, although they are certainly not the perpetrators
if there are any. Even if isolated incidents of abuses are found, as they
may be found in marginalized circumstances, the 'victims' and other women
employed there should not be punished in order to reduce crimes against
* Although the media has emphasized 'gang affiliation,' this is not true,
except so far as marginalized businesses may be subject to shakedowns.
Several years ago the police assisted massage parlor owners to protect them
from gang activity. According to one report, a few years ago police
abandoned that program.
* Contrary to the smears and the inaccurate portrayals of these personal
service businesses, the majority of massage parlors are owned by women.
Employees report very favorable environments, unlike the strip clubs where
workers accuse management of serious abuses and have won suits against
management for sexual harassment and other unfair practices.
* Massage parlor workers are not necessarily prostitutes. Some parlors are
very strict about allowing no prostitution. Police may find one woman who
will be entrapped into providing these services, but they usually proceed
to cite and arrest everyone on the premises. What are we going to do next,
make it illegal for a woman to be alone in a room with a man, just in case?
* A conservative estimate of the prostitution abatement budget is ten
million a year. These police priorities fly in the face of public opinion
in San Francisco which is opposed to enforcement of laws against victimless
crimes. If you were a police officer, who would you rather get paid (often
overtime) to tackle a prostitute or an armed robber?
* In order to enforce prostitution laws police pretend to be clients.
Recently one woman gave an officer a massage and hand job for forty-five
minutes before busting her.
* One five foot tall woman was reportedly thrown to the floor and a gun was
put to her head in the course of a prostitution arrest.
* In order to enforce the prostitution laws behind closed doors, the police
have to resort to all sorts of unfair and illegal practices. Not too long
ago Police Officer Francis Hogue was convicted of forced oral copulation
with a massage parlor worker, a Laotian refugee. Lately there has been an
increase in complaints about police misconduct in prostitution arrests.
* The police have been licensing and busting masseuses for some time. The
San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution "found that this dual jurisdiction
represents a conflict of interest and promotes corruption in the police

"The punitive approach to prostitution always backfires," says Carol Leigh,
of COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), the San Francisco sex workers'
rights organization. "Prostitution just moves somewhere else, to the
streets, and from neighborhood to neighborhood. And the next time it crops
up the women are even more vulnerable. It costs a fortune and the police
wind up using questionably legal, and even illegal means to bust them. The
industry is tenacious enough to find ways to get around the police, but
each time they are busted in the name of rescuing them, it means the
workers become more marginalized, the working conditions become more
stressful, and the prostitutes basically suffer."

Contact: Carol Leigh-Director, Prostitutes' Education Network,
415-751-1659. Leigh is a sex worker, COYOTE member and a former member of
the San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution.

Letter to KTVU from Dawn Passar

Dear KTVU,

As someone with direct knowledge of the situation, I was very disappointed
with the gross inaccuracies, superficiality, and sensationalism of Leslie
Griffith's report last night on massage parlors inthe Tenderloin. I work as
a community health outreach worker focusing inthe health and well being of
the women in the massage parlors and their families. Your report focused
on the allegations that young girls work as prostitutes in the parlors. I
have a great deal of direct contact in the parlors, and to my knowledge,
there are no underage girls working there. Iwould like you to find any
evidence for the allegations in your report. As your source, you interview
two apparently retired Caucasian prostitutes. While it is easy to believe
one's assertion that there are customers who prefer young girls, I
seriously doubt that either one has any personal knowledge of or direct
contact with the Asian parlors in your report, other than perhaps as a
competitor. If you were truly interested in achieving any understanding of
the situation, you may have investigated the role of the San Francisco
police beyond your facile portrayal of the single officer with a heart of
gold. These parlors are actually licensed by the police. The police have
their own interest in maintaining and tolerating these parlors. Indeed
there are episodes of arrests where police officers on duty have had sex,
including orgasm, and then arrested the women. An example is that of the
case Officer Hogue in1994, for which the city was sued and lost. This
practice continues with other officers. Police harassment in other areas
also continues regularly, such as walking into the parlors unannounced,
wandering through the entire area including private spaces in an
intimidating fashion. These abuses of power are issues that responsible
journalists might bring to public attention. The attitude of your report
was one of lurid sensationalism.

For several days you ran ads heavily promoting this special report about
the dark secrets in the Tenderloin. While covering the (untrue) verbal
allegations of young girls working in the parlors, your camera,
conveniently, lingered on little girls--perhaps 5 years old-- walking in
the neighborhood with their families as if these were the people that you
are hoping to protect. Perhaps these girls were the daughters of these
immigrant masseuses, who are also residents of the Tenderloin struggling to
make a living and caring for their families without any government
assistance. Obviously it wasyour judgment that this sort of material
should be used to help yourviewing share. It is a real shame that your
journalism was so weak that you told the wrong story and missed the real

Sincerely, Dawn Passar

Carol Leigh
Prostitutes' Education Network

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