Berkeley May Vote to Legalize Prostitution

Residents of this left-leaning city will have a chance to vote in November on whether they think prostitution should be a crime.

An advocacy group announced Wednesday it had gathered nearly 3,200 signatures, about 1,000 more than needed to get the initiative on the ballot.

The measure would have little more than symbolic value, since it wouldn't undo laws against prostitution. But Robyn Few, head of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (search), said a win at the polls would send an important message.

"What we're trying to do is build a groundswell here in California," she said.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (search) was out of town and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Earlier this year, the City Council declined to endorse decriminalizing prostitution.

Beyond its symbolic value, the ballot initiative would order the police department to give the "lowest priority" to enforcing anti-prostitution laws.

Police spokesman Joe Okies said the department didn't have any immediate response to the initiative.

Few, who recently completed six months house arrest on federal charges of conspiring to commit prostitution, said decriminalizing prostitution is a civil rights issue.

"As long as something is illegal, it's going to remain unsafe and exploited. I want to see women be empowered to speak up and demand their rights," she said.