Gay Shame Podcast – Episode 9: Anti-Sex Worker Barricades at Capp Street: Update and What’s To Be Done


Sister Scat 0:00
What’s up everyone, we’re back with the GAY SHAME podcast, and today the episode that we’re going to be talking about is Capp Street. Because there are some recent developments that involve our favorite city in the world, San Francisco. For those of you that don’t know, Capp Street is a street that’s right next to Mission Street, a neighborhood now being gentrified. But there has been sex work on Capp Street since about the ’70s. And while the working class neighborhood of the Mission has drastically sort of changed over the last couple of decades, one thing that has remained: the sex workers on Capp Street, So, all these gentrifiers were talking about their concern of violence in the area, and just the amount of traffic that comes through based off of the clientele of these sex workers. In response to this, the district supervisor Hillary Ronen, in collaboration with SFPD, erected several barricades in mid- February. These were just regular old gates or regular old like fences at first. But because people were pushing them down, people were taking them down. About two weeks later, in early March or late February, they instead put concrete barriers there. And as of now, it’s mid-April, these concrete barriers are still there. So I’m here excited to talk with several guests about the history of Capp Street and policing, sex work in San Francisco, and what we can all do as listeners and people of San Francisco to support these sex workers that are being pushed out of the mission. I’ll just let the guests introduce themselves, starting with Dilara (Yarbrough).

Dilara 1:45
Hi, everyone. My name is Dilara. I’m a professor at San Francisco State and the Department of Criminal Justice Studies. And I’m working on a book based on a multi-year study with unhoused people in the sex trade here in San Francisco. I’ve also done some community based reports with housing justice and gender justice organizations here in the Bay. Thank you so much for having me.

Sister Scat 2:11
Great to have you. Next Ivy would you like to introduce yourself?

Ivy 2:14
Sure. Hey, my name is Ivy Anderson. I’m a San Francisco-based writer historian, bartender, bookseller and mutual aid organizer, and in 2016, my partner Devin Angus, and I republished The Memoirs of a sex worker from the San Francisco’s Barbary Coast district who had published her memoirs in a local newspaper in 1913. And through doing that work, have become somewhat of a historian of the policing of prostitution in San Francisco. Thanks for having me.

Sister Scat 2:49
Thank you so much. Glad to have you here as well. Cesar Espinoza-Perez, would you like to introduce yourself?

Cesar 2:56
Hi. I’m Cesar Espinoza-Perez, I’m a sex worker. I have been doing sex work over a decade. I’m here as an individual, but I also am a member of a coalition called Decriminalize Sex Work California Coalition and I’ve volunteered at St. James (Infirmary) for like over six years.

Sister Scat 3:12
Awesome. I’m so happy to have you here as well. I think your experience and your perspective is going to bring a lot of insight to this conversation that we’re going to have. And lastly, we have Celestina, would you like to introduce yourself?

Celestina 3:25
I’m Celestina. I’m the Outreach Director at St. James Infirmary. And we go out and we have been since 2018, which was almost simultaneous with the rollout of FOSTA-SESTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act). For those who are unfamiliar with FOSTA-SESTA, those are sort of connected federal legislation that essentially holds website owners or hosts responsible for anything that has any content on their website, causing a lot of sites to shut down monitoring any kind of sexual content, making it very difficult for a lot of sex workers to do online work. So it forced a lot of sex workers out onto the streets. So FOSTA-SESTA came into play and the population of sex workers out on Capp Street tripled overnight, some of the neighbors mobilized and started collaborating with the SFPD basically weaponizing the police against sex workers and they’ve been ever since then been using really offensive language around it like “wanting to get rid of,” “exterminate…” You know, we’re talking about human beings. I think a lot of things are getting blamed on the sex workers that is not directly attributed attributable to sexual sex workers like sideshows, loud music, even like barking dogs. It’s ridiculous.

Sister Scat 4:55
Just to kick off the conversation for people who are listening to the podcast who may not frequent Capp Street, what are the dynamics that are happening on Capp Street now that the barricades have been put up and let you know? And love? If you could answer this.

Celestina 5:07
I would very much love to talk about this, although I wish I didn’t have to because I wish it wasn’t happening. But it is. And it’s basically like a war zone on Capp Street. The cement barricades, you know, is just the latest. They’re terrorizing people is what they’re doing. But they’re harassing they’re arresting and ticketing for loitering is what they’re saying. And some of the reports that I hear from the folks working on Capp Street are things like one instance, somebody telling me that they were just walking down Capp Street with one of their regulars and the police, like, followed them for a few blocks. And then there were like, four police SUVs, that they were very aggressive and cuffed them. The cops are yelling at them, yelling racist and sexist epithets. So like, you know, calling them names yelling, shaming, threatening, terrorizing. So, you know, the barricades are keeping it so that cars can’t go up and down. Capp Street. So more activity ends up happening on the side streets. So when we go out to do outreach, we have to kind of do like a snake pattern when we go back and forth between like, all the side streets and between Mission and Van Ness. And so that’s where we’re, that’s where we’re finding folks. But yeah, every time we talk to folks to give them supplies, we’ve got, you know, more reports of abuses, being perpetrated by the police, to the point where I’ve been thinking that I should maybe include, like, some kind of summary, in our bad date list about what’s happening on Capp Street. The only thing is usually the bad date list, it’s a matter of like warning other sex workers about johns in this case, I don’t, I don’t know what can be done in terms of warning them because they all know, they’re the ones who are telling us so it’s just heartbreaking. And we and we constantly, you know, see the weird behavior that I’ve never seen before, like, multiple like motorcycle cops like driving in weird patterns, and shining bright lights on people. A lot of a lot of cop SUVs, basically, ever since we first started doing the, the the van outreach, we’ve been keeping a tally of like seeing cops and kind of, you know, just like, it’s just like something we put in the notes in our outreach logs, how many cops and where it is to the point where like every page of the outreach logs when I go to process them each month, you know, like 11 cops. It’s very, very concentrated, very aggressive. It’s a warzone.

Sister Scat 8:03
There’s kind of a long history of sex work in San Francisco that I recently have learned about, could you kind of sort of start to walk us through, like, what the history of sex work in San Francisco has looked like?

Ivy 8:17
Absolutely, yeah, I’m… so I’m not qualified to talk about whether sex work was happening in pre-Spanish colonization in San Francisco, nor during the period of Spanish colonization in San Francisco. But I’m able to talk about essentially from the Gold Rush on. And so that’s where I’ll begin. And essentially, sex work has been one of the primary economic and social forces of San Francisco. It was one of the few ways that women had to make money here in San Francisco during this period of hyper-capitalistic colonialism, and sort of the instantaneous development of this city due to the immense wealth that was collected through mining during the Gold Rush era. And… it’s always been an important means of income, you know, not just for women, but for queer folks in the city and also particularly for non-white or otherwise othered and marginalized folks in the city. And there are lots of sort of accounts of queer sex work happening and during the Gold Rush and the early periods around that, that are pretty fascinating and sort of reveal that, you know, during this period of, as I mentioned, like immense, capitalistic, sort of getting-rich-quick that brought folks from all over the world. You know, it’s called an “instant city” for a reason. And it’s because it wasn’t a planned place. It was sort of an ad hoc collection of just humans from all over sort of figuring out how they’re going to operate and build a society with one another, in most ways very haphazardly. But essentially, because the early economic development in this place was centered around gold mining and 98% of the people who first migrated to the San Francisco Bay were men, for those 2% of women, there was a high demand for sex work, and they were able to capitalize upon it upon that demand, often quite well. And even for many sex workers of that period, they were able to attain high positions of standing within society during that period. Some of the examples that I want to mention were Ah Toy (1829-1928), who was one of the first Chinese immigrants to San Francisco, she opened a brothel pretty quickly after migrating here in 1848, actually, so sort of just preceding the real the height of the Gold Rush in 1849. And she was able to become one of the most powerful women in local politics at that time, via the wealth and the power that she accumulated through running brothels. And right across the street from her brothel was another sex worker named Belle Cora (1827-1862), who, you know, similarly was able to amass immense wealth and power here in the city. And then you sort of have this period where, you know, essentially, white men, quite many, deciding that the loose morals of the city were absolutely out of control and needed to be reined in, in order to build a city where the sort of powerful elite of the country would want to establish themselves to create much more of a sort of center for Western imperialism modelled on kind of the, you know, business enterprise of New York and the East Coast. And away from this kind of what they call the Paris of the West at the time was kind of like, culture that was just steeped in entertainment, and brothels, and drinking and gambling and a sort of like culture built around vice and excess in many ways. And this sort of like open morality that corresponded with that kind of, like it’s a mishmash of, of cultures and real lack of regulation. And so pretty quickly, you start to see these attempts to crack down on prostitution attempts to regulate attempts to criminalize and those really began, I would say, around 1851, you see the development of the first what’s called Vigilance Committee. And these are like vigilante white men arming themselves in an attempt to consolidate power, essentially, like police cosplay. These men were really frustrated that the police were, as they perceived it, like in the pockets of the local sex workers, as well as gambling houses and other centers of crime. These were like Protestant white men who are very disturbed that sex workers are the powerful elite of the city, and that, you know, criminals were part of the powerful elite in this city. Obviously, not white-collar criminals, you know, that sort of street-based crime that they were disturbed by. And so they began these kinds of terror campaigns that involved rounding up women, rounding up non-white people rounding up houseless people and utilize tactics such as lynching in order to get their message across about a desire for enhanced law and order in San Francisco. And you sort of see this happen repeatedly. 1851 you also see 1856 and other Vigilance Committee forms, and actually, that was in part sparked by the sex worker Belle Cora or formerly mentioned was at one of the top theatres in the city happened to be sitting alongside a US Marshal and his wife, who were horrified that they were sharing the same sort of high-end booth seats with a sex worker, and began a verbal altercation with her husband and business partner, Charles Cora. Later on that week, this US Marshal and Charles Cora got into a violent interaction on the streets of San Francisco, which then was one of the motivations behind forming this second Vigilance Committee, in which then Charles Cora was essentially like, broken out of prison by these white vigilantes and then hung on the steps of this sort of ad hoc courthouse so called courthouse that these vigilantes instated. So essentially, these like this kind of push-and-pull between like folks who really value the sort of like laissez-faire morality of San Francisco and then folks who really wanted to restrain and control that, corresponding with xenophobic movements, corresponding with anti-poor movements, always.

Sister Scat 14:58
Crazy how we’re still seeing a lot have that happen to the state, you know? Regarding the criminalization of sex work and the criminalization of homelessness and all these other things. I just kind of want to shift gears a little bit. Thank you so much, though so much for providing some of this history of sex work and criminalization in the work in the relationship between the two. Dilara, I know that you, you have some expertise, can you sort of describe San Francisco’s current response to poverty and street-based sex work probably different or might be very similar to the way that criminalization and policing has happened in the past as Ivy talked about?

Dilara 15:35
Yeah. So what really resonates with the history that Ivy was describing is this idea of xenophobia, and like the intersections of anti-sex worker movements, anti-poor movements, and racism. And we’re seeing those same things today. So, throughout the pandemic, San Francisco has been at the center of questions about how to deal with poverty and related issues. We know the ACLU has sued San Francisco over the city’s violent and punitive response to homelessness, more people have died of drug overdose and of COVID. And street-based sex workers and neighbors are reporting dangerous conditions, particularly in the Mission. What has the city done to respond to this? The city has responded to this by increasing SFPD overtime budget by $25 million. These officers are primarily responding to nonviolent poverty-related issues. And so what this means essentially is that San Francisco has allocated millions of dollars, including but not only that overtime pay for the police, to respond to addiction, homelessness, and sex work. These investments and policing are perpetuating criminalization, and housing deprivation that targets black people, and people of color more broadly, and trans people. And so what we’re seeing today is that the city is prioritizing the accumulation of capital, and the protection of private property over the needs of human beings, especially human beings who are forced to live on the streets, and people who work on the street and informal economies. So, what’s happening is that officers are just moving people from block to block, then this displacement actually interferes with people being able to meet their basic needs. And so why is this happening? Primarily in response to pressure from businesses, and from higher-income residents who are kind of politically pushing for policing and displacement. Unhoused people and sex workers are pushed from place to place to place. They find themselves isolated from their usual kind of social and safety networks. And this is part of a bigger trend in our city. According to the Vera Institute (of Justice), 76% of San Francisco’s arrests in 2018 were for “non-serious nonviolent charges.” So, these arrests are happening as a response to poverty, basically. And black people were arrested at six times a higher rate than white people for the same types of “nonviolent, non-serious” incidents. And this doesn’t even count all of the police interactions that don’t results in arrests, for example: orders to move out of public space. All of this policing is disproportionately harming people of color, and black people in particular, and trans people in particular. And so, what we need to do is to decriminalize and to house, right? So what we’re seeing happening in the mission is folks who a lot of times are unhoused, or precariously-housed, and the response is just making everything worse, basically.

Sister Scat 19:47
Yeah, that’s a really great way to contextualize the current issue that’s happening right now with Capp Street. It’s really wild to me that like the way that the city has responded to a lot of the issues currently has happened throughout history. In regards to everything that’s happening on Capp Street though, Cesar, I’m a little bit interested in learning about how how the barricades went up and things like that, how that has affected your, your day to day work life.

Cesar 20:15
I’m an organizer, but I’ve not, I haven’t really done a lot of street-based work. I do know a lot of street-based sex workers. So I can’t really speak to that, like at it, myself. But we have seen, though, is from policies, federal policies, like FOSTA-SESTA, people were, sex workers were able to, to promote themselves online. Because of these policies that are, have taken away most of these websites, that has pushed a lot of us, some sex workers, to be working the streets. Because we still got our, you know, we still gotta eat, we still got our… ha ha. But we don’t have the safety of like, being able to screen, like, because of these… So this is, that’s the weird thing, like, you know, I am glad that that you all brought it up is that like, as a city we like to think of ourselves as like, so like, public health, like evidence-based, but these policies are not evidence-based like that. Like, if anything, the evidence says these policies don’t work. And do you know, during the pandemic, we didn’t like, it was a big shift from like, making a good amount of money to like, zero or one client. And there were times where we were, I was like, how are we gonna eat it? And even, even outside of the pandemic, there wouldn’t… you know, we, there would always be some, like financial… rent is due or is like, “who’s place as am I gonna crash at tonight?” Who, like, you know what I mean? Like trading like sex for like a place to be at, you know what I mean? Homelessness, I feel like, and sex work, there’s just… there’s such a big overlap, sometimes, a lot of times. And in some of the stories that Dilara wrote about, they just, they’re just, they’re written so beautifully, but they also, you know, just, you can’t help but like, tear up.

Sister Scat 21:54
You sort of brought up a point about how these policies that are being directed, nothing will happen. And you did also mention that intersection between homelessness and sex work, which I think is a really strong intersection that needs to be just absolutely highlighted, you know, because I know that in the history of San Francisco, there was a period in time where sex work was decriminalized. Do you know about that, Ivy? And if so, could you speak more to that?

Ivy 22:24
Um, yes, absolutely. Yes. So sort of following these uprisings against sex workers, the homeless and the poor in San Francisco, in the 19th century, you did eventually have a period from the 1880s until about 1917, in particular, where the powers that be essentially decided that sex work was here to stay, that there wasn’t going to be any way of eliminating it. And so instead, they should tolerate sex work as a part of the business culture in San Francisco by having a district in which it was decriminalized. So sex work was never fully decriminalized. In the city, sex workers were still being arrested on loitering charges and fined. And that was all a part of the system of police graft in which the police actually made an enormous amount of money off of local sex workers during those decades. And we’re still able to use the power of the law in order to abuse sex workers, financially and sexually and legally, these periods in San Francisco actually look a little bit more I would say, like legalization, then decriminalization, actually, because there were still these attempts to enforce and regulate sex workers by the state, including mandatory health checks that happened once a week in a local medical clinic here in the city. And if you did not pass that health clinic test, your photograph would be hung in the Hall of Justice as a means of shaming you and outing you as a sex worker. That was one of the sort of so called “progressive” tactics of allowing, but also regulating sex work in San Francisco in the 1911 to 1914 period. One of the major differences between sex work in San Francisco during that period in sex work today is that the brothel, it was a place of work, it was also a place to live. It was indoors, it was often, yes, its own sort of toxic hierarchical structure run by a madam, you know, who kind of controlled the labor of the workers underneath her. But at the very least, she was most often a former, if not current, sex worker herself. And these houses were able to provide a level of safety and security for these workers, as well as just like close relationships and bonds and the sort of safety and security that comes out of those networks of relationships. Those brothels would then essentially pay pay off the police in weekly or monthly installments in order to turn a blind eye to their operations until white upper class white women in the city started organizing in an attempt to rescue sex workers who they perceived as victims of trafficking. And just determined that none of these previous laws had been successful at ending prostitution. And so they were going to attack the brothels. And the sort of property owners who manage these buildings in order to shut down the brothel system, once again, in an attempt to rescue these women, but, in consequence, actually, became a mass eviction movement. And this closure of the brothels in 1917 is really when you see street-based sex work start to be one of the most visible forms of sex work in San Francisco. And it’s also where you see these sort of relationships with pimps being a big part of the lives and the work of sex workers. Whereas as I said, previously, work within brothels could go span anywhere from being like very self-managed to being like heavily managed, but at least typically by somebody else who has at least done your job at some point to being these much more exploitative relationships on the streets in order to protect themselves against violence, and research to see much more direct police abuse of the workers.

Sister Scat 26:36
Thank you so much. You had sort of talked about how there was an interplay, at least in the history of sex work and criminalization in San Francisco of legalization and then decriminalization are like the two like, go back and forth. The larger Can you kind of explain what the difference between decriminalization and legalization are? And which of the two do you think is, is going to better the needs and material conditions of people who are currently doing sex work in San Francisco?

Dilara 27:05
Yeah, so that’s a great question, because kind of in regular conversation, we might hear people say, legalize this or legalize that. But when we talk about these two words, legalization or decriminalization, as legal words, they actually mean really different things. So legalization, limits prostitution to particular locations and imposes regulations. And this might sound okay in theory, but in practice, what it means is that most sex workers are still criminalized. So in places where prostitution is legalized and tightly regulated, most sex workers are actually not eligible to work in registered brothels. And so what’s happening then is that police are still responding to street-based sex work, and they’re still often also sexually assaulting sex workers with impunity. So legalization doesn’t fully get police out of the regulation of sex work, which is what we want: we want police out of consensual adult sex work. The criminalization of marginalized sex workers — for example, trans sex workers — remains rampant in many places where sex work is just legalized. Legalization also can consolidate control of the industry, in the hands of business owners — for example, the owners of brothels — and if those owners are not, as Ivy described, historically sex workers themselves, that can go from being kind of a safer place to live and work to another way to be exploited. Decriminalization means that consensual adult sex work is no longer crime and consenting adults can have sex, regardless of whether payment is involved. So when we decriminalize sex work, the only thing we’re decriminalizing is sex between consenting adults. So if you believe that adults should have bodily autonomy, you should advocate for the decriminalization of sex work. We’re just asking elected officials to stop taking away people’s choices about their own bodies.

Sister Scat 29:44
That decline in bodily autonomy is so… I think I’ve I feel like we’re in a part of history where we’re rapidly beginning to see that, but sort of something that Ivy brought up earlier that I thought was pretty interesting was how the transition from brothels was to more street based sex work sort of entailed a little bit of the loss of autonomy as well. I kind of want to know how places like Capp Street sort of started to begin to develop.

Ivy 30:11
You know, in 1817, what was called the Red Light Abatement Act was passed, and that was a statewide bill that specifically was aimed at closing brothels by penalizing the property owners of those buildings. And on Valentine’s Day 1917 in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, a group of police officers came in went door-to-door and mass-evicted 1500 workers from their homes on that day. And it’s not that brothels entirely cease to exist — and this is one of the consequences of criminalization is, of course, it’s never effective; it is effective at making people’s lives more difficult. It is effective at putting people behind bars and leaving them without resources when they come out. It has never actually succeeded in ending sex work. And so what happened to a lot of those workers… The other point I should mention is that a lot of these sort of white women, nonprofit organizers of that era, who believed that by shutting down the brothels, they would be rescuing these women from exploitation actually set up booths, like on the outskirts of the Barbary Coast that day, like offering resources like basically saying, like, “we’re here to provide resources,” but then when the workers would come to them and be like, “well, I need a job that pays a living wage. Can you provide that for me?” These women were kind of like, “no, actually. But we have these labor camps set up where we could teach you how to sew for free.” None of these workers ended up actually utilizing any of these so-called services that were provided and surveys that were done on those women and sort of where they would go. Typically, they just moved to other neighborhoods. So, the Tenderloin being kind of the first neighborhood that much of the sex work that happens in the city moved into, and then shortly thereafter, the Mission. And really, this is just about like… I mean, sex workers were operating all over the city, but you would kind of naturally gravitate towards wherever it was that either you could pay off a police officer to turn a blind eye to your work, or where neighbors were less likely to call the cops and kind of sic the police officers on you. And so often, that tends to be in neighborhoods where you’re operating and living around other poor people where there’s a certain level of shared understanding that like, “No, we don’t call the cops on one another, because we all are at risk of police violence,” right? So you’re seeing street-based sex work moved to black and brown neighborhoods, and poor and working class neighborhoods. Once these neighborhoods start to gentrify, and you have new wealthy white neighbors start to come in and start calling the cops is that’s only when these things become a so-called social crisis. Sex work has been happening on Capp Street, I know, at least since the early 1990s. I’ve heard personal anecdotes from friends who’ve been in the Mission since the ’70s. That Capp Street… like sex workers were operating on capture in the 1970s. I’ve never, I haven’t found like a solid record of exactly like when sex workers were first on that street. But what I have found records of are white neighbors in the Mission in the ’90s, organizing against sex workers on Capp Street and forming what they actually called “vigilance committees,” which harkens back to these vigilance committees of the 1850s and 1870s. And I think that these sort of neighborhood coalitions that we’re seeing pop up in the mission today, really are a direct relative to this legacy of very frightening, like, militia-like Law and Order organizing, and really do have to do with these questions of sort of who belongs in San Francisco and who belongs on the streets. And I think that question right there, like “who belongs in San Francisco” is where you really start to see these threads weave between the criminalization of the homeless, the criminalization of sex workers, the criminalization of black and brown people. And these kind of spikes around the policing of those populations typically correspond with gentrification, and typically correspond with periods of like overall social and economic instability, where rich white people are freaking out, it plays out in the same way over and over and over again.

Sister Scat 34:41
One thing that you brought up that seems to be a common thread is that it’s often neighbors or people who are around these areas that organize around criminalizing this behavior or sex work in general. Do you have any thoughts of like, what should neighbors do whenever they’re worried about sex workers’ safety?

Celestina 34:59
The first thing that I would tell people who want to help sex workers would be talk to a sex worker. Talk to as many sex workers as you possibly can. Sex workers are out there on the internet, and there’s lots of great resources directly from sex workers talking about, you know, talking about what actual sex workers want. There’s individuals as well as groups like BAWS, (Bay Area Workers Support): they’re a great organization. SWOP: Sex Worker Outreach Project: there’s various chapters of of SWOP as well as SWOP Behind Bars.

Sister Scat 35:39
Do you have any other words out how neighbors should respond to sex worker safety?

Dilara 35:45
If you’re worried about the safety of sex workers in your neighborhood, please do not ask for more police patrols to arrest clients. This might temporarily relocate the problems of poverty and violence from outside of your front door to outside of your neighbor’s front door down the block, but displacing sex workers and indiscriminately arresting clients ultimately harms the most vulnerable people in the sex trade. So if you want to help solve the problems of poverty and violence in the sex trade, like Cesar said, be an advocate, call the mayor’s office, call your supervisor, ask them to invest in housing, ask them to stop funding police overtime in response to problems that could be prevented through provision of housing, and donate to sex worker led organizations like the St. James Infirmary that provide sex workers with resources for survival. Work with housing justice organizations like the Coalition on Homelessness. Tell your neighbors that a police-centered approach is not working and convince them to try a housing-centered approach instead. And I’m actually wondering, Cesar, if you want to talk about that housing first pilot program for sex workers, which legislators chose not to fund. But we could still do something like that here, locally.

Cesar 37:18
Yeah., Last year, 2022, we put forward a budget ask. It was our first time doing it, and it was really exciting. We were asking the state for like housing for unhoused sex workers throughout the state. To make a long story short, we didn’t get the funding. Back to your question: you said “what can people do if they want to like help, or about the safety of sex workers: I would say like to get educated or to read more, or talk to sex workers. Learn more about the law enforcement and even like, other organizations will use human trafficking because of its complexity because then people can’t really like, like, debate them. The research that many of us have looked at really points that to decriminalization as being a safer policy overall. Just an example, right?: so the problem with criminalization, like from a very practical standpoint, is that wherever you… Let’s say, if you end up in a situation when the cops are there, right? — and you’re a victim — the cops won’t believe you because you’re criminalized. They’ll just look at you as the criminal. And so they won’t even if you are a victim, they’re not there to help you. They’re they’re going to cite you, they’re going to arrest you. It’s like twice as traumatic for a person who survived the violent experience just to be re-traumatizing, treated violently, again, but by law enforcement. And unfortunately, that also happens a lot with people who are who are being trafficked.

Sister Scat 38:35
Thank you, Ivy, do you have anything else to add about how to respond to neighbors who may be worried about sex workers?

Ivy 38:43
I mean, yeah, I would definitely just echo the demands to do your research and listen to sex workers themselves and research whatever local sex worker rights orgs or mutual aid projects are, like happening in your hood and reach out to them and see how you can offer assistance and engagement, you know, with whatever projects they’ve got going on already, which is often like quite a lot. If you are new to even thinking about sex work and are curious about sort of the complexities behind it, I could plug a really great book that just came out from PM Press called “Working It: Sex Workers on the Work of Sex,” edited by Matilda Bickers, peech breshears and Janis Luna, which contains, like 30-something essays by sex workers of all different backgrounds speaking to their experiences of sex work, the highs, the lows, the benefits, the the exploitative elements and kind of moves beyond these kind of flattened portrayals of sex workers as either like victims of trafficking or like empowered sex positive goddesses and actually really looks at just the complexities of sex work as just one of the many things people do under capitalism. The last thing I’ll say, one of the most inspiring things that I’ve been a part of in the last few years with Cesar has been organizing a mutual aid sort of direct resources for local sex workers through Rad Mission Neighbors, this collective that we’re a part of. And we host a free laundry event once a month at a local laundromat in the Mission District where it’s sort of a no-questions-asked-come-and-we’ll-just-hand-you-money-and-soap-and-dryer-sheets-to-do-your-laundry-with, and it’s marketed word-of-mouth to housesless neighbors and sex workers. But really anybody is welcome to join in. If you’re neighbor, and you’re concerned about like sex workers on your block engaging in work, like, give them money. You know, like, give them money! Offer to buy them a hotel room for a week, if they want to. And if they don’t, you know, back off and don’t take it personally, you know? I think it really is the work of non-sex workers and folks who are housed to move beyond sort of charitable approaches of engaging with community and towards community-based solidarity approaches towards solving these problems and developing real relationships with your neighbors.

Sister Scat 41:13
I completely agree. You said it so well. So I guess the last thing that I just want to ask is, where can people find you if they want to read your articles?

Celestina 41:24
Celestina Meow at Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and and also, come find me.

Ivy 41:43
I can go next. Yeah, if you are interested in reading my book “Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute,” my website is You can also find out about upcoming events there. And if you’re interested in some of these local mutual aid projects, or working with a coalition who is organizing neighbors to fight back against the notion that all neighbors in the mission are against sex work and pro-police, follow the People’s Mission Coalition on Instagram, or Rad Mission Neighbors on Instagram and Twitter.

Dilara 42:24
Awesome. You cannot find me on social media. But again, my name is Dilara Yarbrough and I’m a professor at San Francisco State, so you can check out some of my articles on the university’s website.

Cesar 42:38
You can find me on Facebook: Cesar Espinoza-Perez. I’m also on Twitter at Julius Caesar. And my email is right there at

Sister Scat 42:49
Thank you all so much for being a part of this episode. It’s a really important episode that we’ve been trying to get together for the last couple of weeks. And I’m really happy that we were able to do so!

Celestina 42:59
Thank you so much. This was awesome!

Dilara 43:01
Thank you so much for having us!

Ivy 43:03
Yeah thank you, everybody!