Neighbors complain of 'rampant prostitution,' illegal activity on San Francisco's Capp Street

Neighbors along San Francisco’s Capp Street shared pictures and videos of what they see out their windows on almost a nightly basis – what they believe are sex workers, and their pimps, while a line full of "Johns" in their vehicles clog the street. 

"There’s rampant prostitution on Capp street," said one resident who did not want to reveal her name out of fear. "I wake up multiple times a week at night. My kids have missed school. I miss work. It’s the John’s in their cars, racing back and forth, turning their music on, having sideshows with their cars."

Other neighbors told us the situation has become dangerous, with presumed pimps seen violently attacking sex workers and threatening residents.

"They not only intimidate the women and manhandle them aggressively, they also sometimes intimidate the neighbors," said one resident named Christina.

The city is taking steps to curb this sort of activity. Starting this week, barriers will go up along Capp Street between 22nd and 18th streets.

"They are about 2 feet tall, big orange plastic barricades filled with water," said Santiago Lerma, legislative aide to Supervisor Hillary Ronen. Lerma said they visited the area on a Friday night, to see the problem for themselves. They quickly realized they needed to take urgent action.

"What you see is a large amount of traffic on Capp Street. Bumper to bumper almost. Johns cruising up and down looking for sex workers. So what the intent behind the barricades is, [is] to disrupt this type of cruising," said Lerma.

"We don’t want to talk about people like they are disposable. We don’t want to talk about people like they are cockroaches we are trying to exterminate from the neighborhood," said Celestina Pearl, an outreach manager with St. James Infirmary. The community clinic provides support for sex workers in the city. Pearl said she is out there at least two nights a week, offering support. She urges residents to act neighborly and come to a peaceful solution.

"I’m very concerned about the young women who work on this street who get such very little voice and so very little power and control over their own lives. And I know it’s not a very popular opinion, especially in this neighborhood," said Pearl.

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Neighbors told KTVU they realize many of the sex workers are being trafficked and are victims. But they want enforcement and accountability so they can simply walk outside their homes at night and raise their kids in a safe community. 

"Most of us, if not all of us, don’t really have a problem with the sex workers or even their business itself," said one neighbor. "It’s really the fact this is a residential neighborhood."

In a statement, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins wrote:

Since taking office, I have been in direct communication with neighbors, including visiting Capp Street at night, to better understand their concerns and determine how my office can be helpful in addressing the prostitution and human trafficking concerns, while working to support victims. We continue to be proactive in helping law enforcement to craft enforcement operations to deter and disrupt this activity while holding traffickers accountable.

Currently, citations for solicitation are referred to our neighborhood courts for adjudication.  Johns referred to neighborhood court are expected to abide by the agreements they make with community members including going to John school and pledging to not repeat their behavior.  14 Johns have been referred to neighborhood court.  We also do everything we can to help rescue victims from traffickers.  We are prepared to prosecute any pimping or human tracking case and traffickers where there is sufficient evidence for us to move forward.