Thursday, April 15, 2021
News + Politics Dem Party Chair Mary Jung's sex-work hypocrisy

Dem Party Chair Mary Jung’s sex-work hypocrisy

She rails against candidates who support decriminalization of sex work -- but ignores the fact that much of her own slate is in favor of decriminalization, too


Truth is a pretty fungible commodity during election season, and we all give candidates a little slack. But an oped in today’s Examiner by the chair of the local Democratic Party, Mary Jung, takes misinformation to an unusual level.

In the oped that appears under her name – which reads as if it was written by a political consultant, which means it probably was – Jung argues that the members of the progressive reform slate for the DCCC are in favor of policies that could lead to more sex trafficking.

Mary Jung hates sex work -- and loves her own candidates who want decriminalization
Mary Jung hates sex work decriminalization — and loves her own candidates who want decriminalization

How do you get there? By looking at the Harvey Milk LGBT Club questionnaires, which include a query about decriminalizing sex work:

10 “reform” candidates for the Democratic Central County Committee declared their support for legalized prostitution in San Francisco by banning all investigations and prosecution of it, opening the door to wide-spread sex trafficking in our city. All 10 of these candidates — Sophie Maxwell, Pratima Gupta, Rafael Mandelman, Cindy Wu, Petra DeJesus, Jon Golinger, Sandra Lee Fewer, Hene Kelly, Brigitte Davila and Norman Yee — appear on Aaron Peskin’s slate card of so-called “reform” candidates.

And let’s not forget that in 2008, the DCCC voted to endorse Prop. K, a sex-work decriminalization measure:

In 2008, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and then-District Attorney Kamala Harris came out in strong opposition to Proposition K, a pro-prostitution measure, criticizing the so-called “progressive” proponents for failing to consider the implications that decriminalization would have on other issues often related to prostitution including drug use, sexual abuse and human trafficking. Feminist titan Gloria Steinem also opposed Prop. K because it was a “trafficker’s dream” and “would declare open season on women and children.” But the Peskin-chaired Democratic Party endorsed Prop. K.

Gee, that sounds awful.

Now for a little reality:

Seven of the candidates on Mary Jung’s own real-estate slate told the Milk Club the exact same thing as the people she is blasting – they support decriminalizing sex work. Her own people are taking the same position that she claims is “pro-sex-trafficking.” Which would mean she should be against all of them, too.

Here, according to the Milk Club, are Mary Jung’s candidates who took the same position as the people she wants to scare voters away from: Arlo Hale Smith, Zoe Dunning, Joshua Arce, Alix Rosenthal, Keith Baraka, Joel Engardio, Trevor McNeil, and Marjan Philhour.

Leah Pimentel, who is also on the real-estate slate, supported decriminalization in 2012, and told the Milk Club: “This is a win for all women. Decriminalization of sex work will not on its own stop the injustices experienced by sex industry workers. However, it is an important first step to improve the health and safety of sex industry workers, and communities overall.”

Four years later, she changed her position.

Gary McCoy, another member of Jung’s slate, submitted a questionnaire in which he said he supported decriminalization. Then he contacted the Milk Club and said he was withdrawing his questionnaire, for reasons he didn’t explain.

Oh, and guess what else? Aaron Peskin, who is supposedly running this “machine,” voted AGAINST Prop. K in 2008.

Now let’s go beyond the utter hypocrisy (Mary, if support for decriminalization is so awful, why don’t you go after all of the people who take that position, not just the ones who wants to get the real-estate industry out of the local Democratic Party?)

Let’s actually take a look at the issue for a moment.

Decriminalizing sex work is increasingly a mainstream position. Amnesty International and the World Health Organization are on record endorsing the idea. There’s a very good argument that legalization would take the industry out of the shadows – and make sex trafficking laws easier to enforce.

Pratima Gupta, a physician who is the medical director for the St. James Infirmary, which provides medical care to sex workers, said that from a public-health perspective, “decriminalization makes perfect sense.”

She said that sex trafficking – forced labor – is abhorrent. “Nobody should be forced into labor of any kind,” she said. But to conflate the issue of decriminalization with sex trafficking is absurd.”

In fact, Gupta, who is a candidate on the reform slate, told me that “decriminalization is a feminist empowerment issue for adult consensual sex.”

Apparently, many of Jung’s endorsed slate-mates agree.

I called Jung at the Board of Realtors, where she works, and I emailed her to ask if she is still endorsing the nine candidates on her slate who support decriminalization. No response.

Because there is no credible response here. It’s just giant hypocrisy. From someone who wants to lead the local Democratic Party for another four years.

The reality: This election has very little to do with the decriminalization of sex work and everything to do with whether Jung’s real-estate and tech-industry-backed candidates win the DCCC, and have the power to oppose progressives in the November supervisorial elections. It’s about who runs the city, and it’s kind of gross that she has dragged sex workers in as political pawns in her power game.


Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. That was a very well presented video. Thank you presenting it. I have researched this area quite extensively and have come to the same conclusions.

  2. “…I’ve reconsidered the ideas I once had about prostitution. I’ve given a lot of thought to consent and the nature of work under capitalism. I’ve thought about gender inequality and the sexual and reproductive labor of women. I’ve experienced exploitation and violence at work. I’ve thought about what’s needed to protect other sex workers from these things. Maybe you’ve thought about them, too. In this talk, I’ll take you through the four main legal approaches applied to sex work throughout the world, and explain why they don’t work; why prohibiting the sex industry actually exacerbates every harm that sex workers are vulnerable to…”

  3. That wasn’t citing Cato, it was citing the arguments hosted on a Cato forum that also included the opinions of Dianne Post, who shares your views and cites Farley. So, to be consistent you should condemn Post’s views (and by extension Farley’s views) for being presented on Cato’s site, as well.

    But you fail to engage in the substance of AI’s research and reports, or the substance of the criticisms of Farley, instead falling back on ad hominen attacks based on guilt by association. I could do that too by pointing out your views on prostitution are shared by Christian fundamentalists and ISIS, but that would just distract from the evidence that decriminalization is the best legal framework to reduce the harms to sex workers. But I don’t think you really care about the harms to sex workers. Like with Farley, et al it seems it’s more important for you to send a message and make a statement that projects your virtue than than dealing with or even contemplating the harms your promoted policies inflict on real people.

    Many alcohol prohibitionists, drug warriors, and pro-life activists have been well-intentioned (though some have been authoritarians who love to see the state enforce their personal morals and values and jail transgressors). Giving you the benefit of the doubt, it seems like you’re in the former group, but it’s still rather questionable company you’re keeping.

  4. Raising the issue of integrity by citing CATO–the think tank founded by the Koch brothers–is instructive.

    CATO–which promotes privatization of Social Security and opposes minimum wage laws, child labor prohibitions, and universal health care–might be inclined to think of sex slavery as exemplifying the Free Market they so wholeheartedly embrace.

    To people like that, abolishing African-American slavery was an infringement on the property rights of slave owners, who should have been praised for providing the trafficked slaves with jobs in the Deep South. That’s some company to keep.

  5. Prostitution Research and Education is the organization of the Melissa Farley, who is well known for her ideologically driven shoddy research methods, unchecked confirmation bias, and dishonesty.


    …Several of these (including but not limited to the material at footnotes 1, 5, and 12) originate with Dr. Melissa Farley, a radical feminist ideologue with a long history of distorting and even inventing data. Dr. Farley is well-known for selecting unrepresentative convenience samples (such as street workers in prison or forced drug rehabilitation) and then incorrectly applying her finding to all sex workers, despite the fact that street workers represent less than 15% of all sex workers; this short but thorough critique of her work by a number of academics (including Dr. Weitzer) provides much more detail than I have room for in this essay. In the Bedford v. Canada case which struck down anti-prostitution laws in Ontario, Justice Susan Himel wrote:

    ‘I found the evidence of Dr. Melissa Farley to be problematic…her…unqualified assertion…that prostitution is inherently violent appears to contradict her own findings that prostitutes who work from indoor locations generally experience less violence…her…choice of language is at times inflammatory and detracts from her conclusions…and…[she has] stated…that some of her opinions…were formed prior to her research, including, “that prostitution is a terrible harm to women, that prostitution is abusive in its very nature, and that prostitution amounts to men paying a woman for the right to rape her.’

    Dr. Farley has also been accused of gross ethical violations, as detailed at length in this 2011 request to the American Psychological Association, asking that her membership be revoked for those violations. That complaint contains a refutation of one of Ms. Post’s claims, that decriminalization in New Zealand has “failed;” to put it bluntly, the “increases” in prostitution Dr. Farley “found” were simply made up. Dr. Farley is also the source of the now-ubiquitous “the average sex worker debuts at 13” canard which Ms. Post quotes; the study she supposedly drew that “fact” from actually found that the average age at debut for underage workers (a group making up only 3.5% of all sex workers) was 16, the same general age found by most studies (such as the U.S. Department of Justice-funded John Jay study of 2011). The only mention of “13” in the study Dr. Farley quoted was the average age at which one of the surveyed groups reported first (noncommercial) sexual contact of any kind; a similar substitution is reported in the APA complaint, in which Dr. Farley tried to claim that “Māori women were entering prostitution as young as 9 years old” because two of her subjects had reported juvenile sexual contact at that age. The false (and demonizing) claims about clients Ms. Post quotes are from the Farley paper analyzed in the short critique I linked above, and they are refuted by other, more methodologically sound studies (including one of Dr. Weitzer’s). And Dr. Farley’s lack of qualification to diagnose PTSD is discussed in the APA complaint.

    But not all of Ms. Post’s inaccurate statistics come from Dr. Farley. The claim that “the average age of death for a prostitute is 34” is derived from a 2003 study which examined all of the reports of murdered street workers in Colorado Springs from 1967-1999, and discovered that the average age of death of those victims was 34. In other words, nobody who wasn’t murdered was included in the figure. It’s like using the average age of dead soldiers in a war to proclaim “the average man who joins the military dies at 21.” Ms. Post does not cite a source for the popular myths that “pimps take all the money” and the rather lurid “barcode” trope because there is no research to support either one of them. The very first known photo of one of these “barcode” tattoos, from Madrid, dates to over a year after the myth was in circulation, and is more likely to have been inspired by it than vice-versa. The claim that “nearly eighty percent of prostituted women report a history of child abuse” derives from a 2004 study of incarcerated street workers (see my earlier comments) which actually claimed 45% reported abuse; one might also point out that if Ms. Post is claiming that a person who has experienced such abuse can never again consent to either sex or employment, our society has a far larger problem than just sex workers.

    And then there are the fallacious claims about legalization increasing “trafficking,” deriving from two sources. The first is the deeply flawed Neumayer, Cho, and Dreher study, which failed to even define the term “trafficking” in any way which would allow statistical comparison. The second is the increasingly conservative political establishment in the Netherlands, which is so desperate to seize the valuable land in Amsterdam’s legendary red-light district that it is willing to promote a known fake as an “expert” and to contradict the findings of its own 2010 study which found that only 10% of sex workers were involved in what it broadly defined as “wrongs” (including coercion)…

  6. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are essentially owned by convicted inside-trader and hedge fund mogul George Soros. The UN and its agencies are no more and no less corrupt than its member states, especially the United States. AI, HRW, and the UN–like the U.S. Government–cater to financial interests that are definitively not altruistic. Financial services to organized crime, e.g. money-laundering, is a growing international problem that has corrupted public institutions, as well as the non-profit industrial complex. Take a look at the Prostitution Research and Education website. It offers a unique perspective, based on clinical and other transitional social services to these victims of organized crime.

  7. As Amnesty International, UNAIDS, the WHO, and Human Rights Watch (also corrupt organizations?) have found, you can’t criminalize one party in a two-party transaction and insulate the “non-criminalized” party from the harmful collateral effects of criminalization. There are existing laws against trafficking. The Nordic model adds nothing to anti-trafficking efforts and may undermine them through making those in a position to report suspected trafficking, such as immigrant sex workers and johns, reluctant to report cases to the authorities and by generally keeping the business underground. The lessons of outlawed abortion, alcohol prohibition, and the drug war apply. Criminalization creates more harms than it resolves and the net effect is negative. Like in Portugal, where drugs have been decriminalized, in New Zealand where prostitution has been decriminalized, the harms of criminalization have been removed with no increase in drug use or prostitution.

  8. I rely on Prostitution Research and Education, located in San Francisco, as a trusted source. I do not trust Amnesty International, an increasingly corrupt organization, that in recent years has betrayed some aspects of its mission. As you indicate, prostitutes need transitional assistance that, like many social services today, are denied them due to the brutality of austerity. The Nordic model does not criminalize “their work”–only the trafficking and purchasing.

  9. And Amnesty International, through doing actual research into the matter, found that the Nordic model subjects women to police harassment, evictions, deportations, and makes their work more dangerous.

    What is the source of your 90% figure? And to the extent that some are subject to brutal criminal networks, how does keeping their work criminalized solve that issue rather than perpetuate it?

  10. It would be interesting to know the exact wording of the survey. If the intent was the Nordic model, mentioned below, it would probably find a lot of support in San Francisco.

    Frankly, I don’t think any of this matters to Mary Jung. If it did, she would also have castigated the nine members of her own slate who supported the same position as the reform slate members she mentioned.

    No, what this was about was politics and politicizing an issue, something the DCCC has become very adept at under the guidance of Mary Jung.

  11. The endorsement questionnaires are about decriminalizing prostitution in general. The proposal from the reform slate, however, is about suspending all police investigations into prostitution–NOT actual decriminalization.

    I have to agree with Mary Jung on this one: we shouldn’t institute reforms that allow pimps and traffickers to go uninvestigated.

  12. Politicians aside, the prostitution industry is an extremely violent aspect of organized crime, that destroys lives and corrupts communities. The Nordic model adopted by Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada, and France criminalizes trafficking and purchasing women and children for sex slavery, and decriminalizes the victims, i.e. prostitutes. Roughly 10% of prostitutes are in it by choice; the rest are victims of poverty and brutal criminal networks. Protecting the human rights of 90% of prostitutes is arguably more important than helping organized crime, don’t you think?

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