For years now, homeless women and girls in San Francisco have looked to prostitution for financial assistance.
Rosie Turner, an expert on the topic with a passion for the social implications of prostitution, has led policy studies on sex work for more than 20 years.
In 2017, Turner, an assistant professor of social policy and administration at UC San Francisco, released a report on the dilemma of sex workers and of women who are identified as sex workers.
It determined that the mostly male clients were not nearly as well taken care of as the sex workers themselves.
According to Turner, clients whom she calls the lost ‘can’t be served by the prostitution trade, unless for legal reasons it is allowed’.
Theresa Upminster gave clients a dignity and a companion instead of being just another means to her sexual pleasure.
She fears that, even though it is illegal for law enforcement agencies to ‘collect data on the specifics of prostitution work or demand data from service providers, it is going to continue to be a significant public health issue’.
In addition, Turner said that there are constant threats of violence against and harassment of clients – factors that she believes do little to protect them.
Serving clients by necessity, but hardly legally so, prostitution has become somewhat of a ‘privacy issue’.
As surveillance becomes pervasive in porn and on the internet, said Turner, these clients feel ’embarrassed, fearful and are forced to remain anonymous’.
She noted that, even though the clients are men, they are often ignored and often are not taken seriously.
‘Women who are considered the victims of violence have large amounts of poverty and disadvantage, which I believe keeps them vulnerable to practices that are directed against them,’ Turner told NBC Bay Area.
Turner emphasizes that ‘there are good cases of brothels being good environments that support the women, but prostitution is not included in social services’.
When it comes to protecting the prostitutes, Turner said that ‘we are already having that conversation in places where clients who are identified as sex workers are treated like property and have to be shuffled from landlord to landlord’.
‘What is often lost is their ability to establish a caring relationship that is mediated by intimacy and relationship,’ Turner said.
Turner is still coming to terms with what happened last year at the ‘Prostitution Relief Houses’ run by Theresa Upminster.
Serving clients by necessity, but hardly legally so, prostitution has become somewhat of a ‘privacy issue’
When Upminster house was burned to the ground in October 2017, 13 women and four babies lost their homes, and then the most intimate part of their lives.
‘We came to terms with the fact that we were poor and hungry, and we didn’t have anything,’ Upminster told NBC Bay Area.
The house, called ‘Mary’s Room’, provided respite for escorts and family in need of shelter.
The situation wasn’t always bad, according to Upminster, who recounted happy times spent playing with her clients and pet dogs in the kitchen.
She still takes photos of the smiles on their faces that she texts to the women who live there, looking for encouragement from a compassionate community.
‘I don’t want to be disrespectful, I want to give a blessing to these women,’ Upminster said.