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Wednesday, May 1 1996
The Unhappy Hookers
Ever since the days of the Barbary Coast, San Francisco has been something of a haven for sexual persuasions and attitudes of all stripes. So it should be no surprise that a new project for prostitutes has formed in the city.

But the group, Promise, a year-old endeavor at the nonprofit Tide Center, takes a distinctly un-San Franciscan approach to helping women in the biz: It teaches hookers how to get off the street.

"There are no other services to only help women get out. All of the services going into prostitution are HIV prevention," says Anastasia Volkonsky, one of two women operating Promise. "It's great to be safer and alive, but what about just getting out?"

Volkonsky says that prostitutes are pitched two distinct messages from our culture: They're either told that whoring is amoral and worthy of a jail term, or they hear from the positive-sex movement and prostitute-rights groups like COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) that they are "sex workers" whose profession is savvy and empowering.

"We make it clear that we see prostitution as abuse," says Volkonsky. "We have a radical analysis and try to make the connection to the historical oppression of women and minorities."

The city runs a pretrial diversion program that allows women to attend meetings in lieu of tickets, and that is the source of most of Promise's clients. Volkonsky and company conduct street outreach in the Tenderloin to recruit other attendees to the weekly support group. With only a $40,000 budget from women "who have escaped prostitution," former johns, and the San Francisco Foundation, Promise hopes to land city funds to offer, as Volkonsky says, "a feeling of hope. We show how other women have done it."

The Mayor's Muni Misspeak
When Willie Brown declared to the San Francisco Chronicle's Matier and Ross on April 15 that the "buses are running better" and that the people of San Francisco "are absolutely convinced that the steps I've taken can lead to an ultimate quality of service," he may have been at a temporary loss for facts and figures. Although Brown made fixing Muni a top priority in his campaign, according to the transit agency's own statistics (which tend to be more optimistic than those of independent consultants), the system's buses and streetcars missed an average of 2.4 percent of their scheduled runs during the first three months of Brown's reign -- down from the last six months of 1995, when Muni under ex-Mayor Frank Jordan missed an average of 4.3 percent of its scheduled service. (Missed runs can be chalked up to no drivers, no equipment, or both.)

Though the figures for the first quarter of 1996 point to an improvement, they hardly proclaim that the aging system of buses, trolleys, and cable cars is "fixed." Indeed, Brown staffer Rudy Nothenberg, who also serves as president of the Public Transportation Commission that sets policy for Muni, ordered a "condition assessment" of each Muni department earlier this year. The results, released in a report late in February, might surprise Brown: high absentee rates among drivers; excessive workers' compensation claims; frequent repair of the bus and train fleet -- the list goes on. Another list released separately offers Muni managers' own 36-point plan to improve service between now and July 1 -- a tacit admission by Muni that the system needs work. Until then, "fixed" is a relative term.

By Jeff Stark, John Sullivan

About The Authors

Jeff Stark


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