Norma Hotaling dies – fought prostitution

Saturday, December 20, 2008 (SF Chronicle)

Meredith May, Chronicle Staff Writer

Norma Hotaling, a nationally recognized advocate for the sexually exploited, died in her San Francisco home Tuesday after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 57.

Ms. Hotaling, tapped by Oprah Winfrey’s “Angel” award program, overcame her own childhood sexual abuse and drug addictions to become an innovative and passionate leader committed to ending the commercial sex trade, coming up with unique social programs that have since been replicated nationwide.

Her work led to a 2004 California law that allows prosecutors to charge pimps and johns with child abuse if they prostitute a minor.

She co-founded the nonprofit Standing Against Global Exploitation project, known as SAGE, in 1992 to serve as a resource, advocacy and counseling center for sexually exploited men and women.

Four years later, she helped the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office create a first-of-its-kind class for johns caught soliciting prostitutes. The First Offender Prostitution Program, now replicated in 40 cities, allows first offenders to have their charges dropped if they pay a $1,000 fine and participate in a six-hour course taught by sex trafficking-experts, neighborhood activists and doctors who discuss the downsides of prostitution.

The program was lauded in a 2008 U.S. Department of Justice study, which concluded that men who attended San Francisco’s “john school” were 30 percent less likely to be rearrested for soliciting a prostitute than men who did not attend such a program.

Ms. Hotaling was instrumental in opening a six-room safe house in San Francisco for girls trying to leave prostitution and stay in school. The house, located in the Outer Sunset neighborhood, opened in October 2005 and was one of only a handful in the country until city funding cuts forced its closure in 2007.

“Her life in many ways could have been considered a tragic one, but she turned a tragic life into the life of a hero,” said San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who collaborated with Hotaling on the law to bring child abuse charges against pimps and johns.

“Almost more important than the law was what Norma did to demystify and stop romanticizing prostitution. She got people to understand that women and girls are being treated as commodities,” Harris said.

A board member of the international Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Ms. Hotaling used her personal history as a homeless prostitute in San Francisco as a way to educate others about the harms of the sex trade.

She was often called on to speak at conferences, counsel public policy experts, and testify before the U.S. Congress and state Legislature, providing a uniquely informed viewpoint. Months before her death, state Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, presented Ms. Hotaling with a proclamation for her advocacy work.

Although she was struggling with her illness, she led a successful opposition to Proposition K on the November ballot, which would have decriminalized prostitution in San Francisco.

“She used her own experiences to educate advocates, policymakers, government officials and other survivors by calling prostitution a form of violence against women rather than a job,” said Melissa Farley, director of San Francisco’s nonprofit Prostitution Research & Education.

She grew up in Palm Beach, Fla., where she earned an associate degree at a Florida college to work as a cardiopulmonary technician. Nearly two years later, she moved to San Francisco, where she struggled with drug addiction and homelessness until she eventually found a treatment program that worked at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics.

At 40, Ms. Hotaling earned a bachelor’s degree in health education from San Francisco State University, graduating magna cum laude in 1992. She found work in an outreach program that helped prostitutes, and then formed her own nonprofit.

By 1996, San Francisco State had put her on its list of outstanding alumni.

“Her death is a tremendous loss because of the incredible spokesperson that she was,” said Francine Craae, interim co-director of SAGE and a longtime friend.

“She was an advocate for those people who didn’t have a voice,” she said.

Ms. Hotaling received numerous awards for her work.

SAGE and the First Offender Prostitution Program were honored in 1998 with the Innovations in American Government Award given jointly by the Ford Foundation, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the Council for Excellence in Government.

In 2000, SAGE’s peer education program was celebrated with the Peter F. Drucker Foundation Award for Nonprofit Innovation.

In 2001, Oprah Winfrey chose Ms. Hotaling as an outstanding national advocate worthy of her Oprah’s Angel: Use Your Life Award, which brought national recognition to SAGE. Ms. Hotaling accepted the award on behalf of SAGE on the show.

Most recently, in October, the Center for Young Women’s Development in San Francisco gave Ms. Hotaling the Cheyenne Bell Award honoring her work with young women escaping San Francisco street prostitution.

In an interview with The Chronicle in 1997, Ms. Hotaling described her life’s work this way:

“It’s like caring for orchids. They die so easily. But you take the dead-looking stem to someone who knows orchids and that person can look at the root and say, ‘Look! There’s still a little bit of life here.’ ”

Ms. Hotaling is survived by her mother, Norma Louise Hotaling of Berkeley, and her brother, James Hotaling.

A public memorial will be held in January. Donations may be made to SAGE
Project, 1275 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94103.

E-mail Meredith May at mmay@sfchronicle.com.
Copyright 2008 SF Chronicle

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2008/12/20/BA7Q14RGK8.DTL

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