In 1995, 130 street prostitutes in San Francisco were interviewed as part of a study on the psychological and physical impacts of prostitution on women and girls. According to the study, on average, most had begun their "careers" at age 14 or 15. Sixty-eight percent had been raped—almost half of those had been raped more than five times—and 82 percent had been physically assaulted. In addition to exploitation and abuse, these women face homelessness, substance abuse, and a vast array of other physical and mental health problems. Most of the women interviewed want to leave prostitution.
In San Francisco, prostitution not only takes a toll on the lives of women involved but on the taxpayer; costs for the arrest and handling of prostitution cases exceed $4,125,000 a year. Arrests number between 4,000 and 5,000 each year.
The traditional law enforcement approach involves revolving door arrests of prostitutes with little or no services addressing their needs or the forces that led them to enter lives of prostitution. That system results in extremely high recidivism rates (80 percent of prostitutes arrested are repeat offenders), ongoing sexual exploitation and violence, and enormous costs to the criminal justice and public health systems.
San Francisco's First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP) is a collaboration between law enforcement, public health, and private agencies created to shift, fundamentally, local government's approach to prostitution. In 1995, Police Lieutenant Joseph Dutto, Assistant District Attorney Teri Jackson and Norma Hotaling, a health educator and former prostitute, founded FOPP as a multi-agency effort that reallocates resources from prosecution and jailing to front-end prevention, education, and treatment addressing the needs of women and girls who are victims of sexual exploitation and violence.
FOPP has four primary components: prevention services for girls; intervention for adult women; arresting and educating customers; and systematic reform. It provides counseling, treatment, life skills training, and support for girls in detention and on probation to help them permanently exit the criminal justice system. Similar services, including job training, peer support, and case management, are offered to adult women trying to exit prostitution.
Notably, FOPP addresses the inherent discrimination in a system in which prostitutes rather than their customers bear the legal brunt of arrest and prosecution. Under the program, more male customers than female prostitutes are arrested. The District Attorney invites first-time offenders to enroll in "Johns School," an eight-hour seminar in lieu of prosecution. Educators on the justice system, public health, domestic violence and trafficking in girls as well as former prostitutes address customers' ignorance about the nature of the sex industry-from the economics of pimping to the recruitment and abuse of young girls-and the risks and effects of prostitution. Administrative fees collected from participating customers fund intervention services for women prostitutes and prevention education and early intervention for girls.
In a little over three years, FOPP has served 1,280 girls, 5,072 women, and 1,512 male customers. Through the program's intervention, 260 women and 90 girls have left prostitution, and less than one percent of the male customers have been re-arrested for solicitation. The program's positive effects on the lives of those served, dramatically lowered recidivism, and savings in criminal justice and health care resources have prompted many other jurisdictions in North America to implement programs modeled on FOPP.