San Francisco prostitution law

San Francisco attempted to be the first (and only) city in the United States to decriminalize prostitution. While governed by the laws set forth in Sacramento that prohibit all forms of and crimes related to prostitution, it was determined by a task force in 1996 that it was costing the city more in money each year to enforce the laws than it would be to set forth a statute stating that the laws against prostitution would not be enforced by law enforcement officials.

Prostitution laws in California

Prostitution is illegal in California. Anyone who is found guilty of prostitution or offering to commit prostitution may be subject to a sentence in jail up to 1 year and/or a fine up to $1,000. Any customer (or patron) of a prostitute found guilty will face the same sentence.

While city officials agreed that prostitution was a problem within the city, they identified it as more of a public health issue rather than a law enforcement issue. A task force recommended that various aspects of the enforcement related to this issue be transferred to the department of health.

Task force considerations

In 1996, a task force examined the issue of prostitution and came up with several conclusions:

  • The sex industry contributes significantly to the economy of San Francisco through various means: It was determined by the task force that without the sex industry, the economy of San Francisco would experience a significant dent. While prostitution is not a legal sex industry profession, the truth of the matter is that it is a portion of the business conducted by many legitimate sex industry businesses. Part of these proceeds make up the profits of these companies. Additionally, the wages received by many earning their livings from prostitution go directly back into the economy of San Francisco through mortgage payments, utility payments, and providing money for other necessities that are taxed and provide funding for the city budget.
  • The Tenderloin Task Force costs taxpayers an estimated $1.3 million per year: The Tenderloin Task Force patrols the area known as “The Tenderloin” in San Francisco. The area is well-known for high concentrations of prostitutes living and working in the area. The task force conducts weekly “sweeps” to arrest and bring to justice many prostitutes. Many of these individuals are picked up for misdemeanor charges of committing a public nuisance. These efforts to arrest individuals for misdemeanor charges costs the city at least $1.3 million annually.
  • Total costs to the City of San Francisco for enforcement of prostitution laws is approximately $7.6 million: In addition to the Tenderloin Task Force, vice employees who specialize in prostitution arrests work a lot of overtime in order to be present during court hearings to testify about their arrests. This overtime results in significant costs to the City of San Francisco. Court costs for these types of crimes are estimated to be $2 million annually. Furthermore, all costs associated with arresting and prosecuting minor prostitution charges result in an estimated $7.6 million dollars per year.
  • Felonious convictions for offenders infected with HIV are stigmatizing: The task force examining the laws and law enforcement policies discovered that the civil libertarians and AIDS activists contend that the law that felonizes solicitation or prostitution after proof of HIV infection is stigmatizing and discriminating. They contend that the law fails to differentiate between offers of safe sex and offers of unsafe sex.
  • More serious offenses such as forced prostitution, juvenile prostitution and human trafficking could be more thoroughly investigated if less time was spent on misdemeanor offenses: Many more serious offenses go unpunished due to working on crimes such as solicitation and prostitution. The time is spent identifying these crimes instead of investigating serious offenses that threaten the genuine personal safety and free will of others.

The law to focus less on the enforcement of lesser prostitution offenses was defeated on November 4, 2008. It was defeated by a 57.6-percent to 42.4-percent margin.

Until new legislation is approved, San Francisco abides by all laws governing the prohibition of prostitution that are set forth by the state of California.


The following Nevada counties have their own laws and regulations on prostitution:

Prostitution laws in US cities:

Prostitution laws in Canada