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Used condoms and car crashes: Sex work on Shotwell Street has residents fed up

Shotwell Street residents say they're tired of johns crashing into their cars since sex work barricades went up on Capp Street one year ago.

A person with long hair, a dark top and pink shorts crosses a rain-soaked street at nighttime in front of a stopped white car.
A woman walks and talks on her phone at the intersection of Shotwell and 20th streets in San Francisco on Feb. 1. | Source: Loren Elliott for The Standard

Late one night in August, a resident of Shotwell Street in the Mission District woke up to a knock at his door.

Standing there were two San Francisco police officers who told him his Mercedes-Benz had been hit by another vehicle. The repair cost was more than the car was worth, so he had to buy a new one.

“Our car was parked on 21st Street near Shotwell—not at the corner, but in the middle of the block. It was so badly damaged that it was pushed halfway on top of the sidewalk,” he said. “It was $3,000 worth of damage.”

The police told him they had no idea what happened other than his car had been hit by another vehicle, he said. But the resident, whom The Standard is not naming because he fears retaliation from pimps, instantly felt he knew what had gone down. 

A street at night with cars, a pedestrian crossing, and a person in red shorts and a black top walking away.
A woman stands at the intersection of Shotwell and 20th streets in San Francisco on Feb. 1. | Source: Loren Elliott for The Standard

The crash, the resident believes, had to be the result of johns driving recklessly down the street in search of sex workers. It’s been a problem for a year now, he said, after sex work moved onto Shotwell Street when barricades on nearby Capp Street went up last February

His story is one of five similar testimonies from Shotwell residents who say such incidents have increased drastically on their street since the crackdown on Capp Street, where sex work has been common at night for decades. They all asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

‘My son has been accosted’

Solicitation on Shotwell has become “pretty overt,” another resident of the street told The Standard.

The resident said he has seen fights break out between sex workers and johns. Workers have also approached his guests, offering their services. He’s witnessed trespassers on his and other neighbors’ property and friends being accosted as they walk by.

“We had a guest on her way back from visiting us, and she was approached as if she was a working girl,” he said. “My 18-year-old son has been accosted by a sex worker who asked him, ‘Do you want some pussy?’ Everyone is blatant. It is not discreet at all.”

Residents told The Standard the problems started almost immediately after the Capp Street crackdown. The San Francisco Police Department said they are aware of the issues.

“We are addressing the issues affecting the community and we will continue our law enforcement and outreach efforts,” police communications director Evan Sernoffsky said in a statement. “Our officers always ask suspected sex workers if they are being trafficked to see if they need additional services. We will continue to enforce the law, and work with the community and our city partners to address this issue.”

Residents told The Standard that after the Capp Street closures commenced, sex workers’ normal route was disrupted, and they began concentrating on picking up customers on Shotwell.

A rainy city corner at night with a pedestrian, a red car, and street signs, including one for Shotwell Street.
A person crosses at the intersection of Shotwell and 20th streets in San Francisco on Feb. 1. | Source: Loren Elliott for The Standard

“It used to be a kind of track where sex workers would do a circle walk on Capp, come down 21st Street, make a left onto Shotwell a few blocks before returning to Capp,” said one resident who has lived in the neighborhood for 16 years.

“Prostitution has been going on in this neighborhood for 50 years,” the resident added. “Men who want to buy sex know where to go.”

Shotwell used to have some sex worker traffic, the resident said, but before barriers were added in a 2021 Slow Streets project, that traffic moved freely through the neighborhood. The change moved sex work to Capp Street, which in turn became the hot spot.

As the Capp Street closures were being considered at the start of 2023, Shotwell residents told city officials they were worried the plan would bring sex work back to their street.

“We were supporting the Capp closures but told everyone who would listen to us that this would move it back here—which happened,” the two-year resident said, adding that weekends see the most action.

According to him, residents had a meeting in June 2023 with SFPD, city officials and representatives of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to express concerns about the increased solicitation. 

The resident told The Standard that a follow-up meeting was planned but hasn’t happened.

“There was supposed to be a follow-up meeting within six weeks. This never happened,” he said. “We would always get excuses. There was no person who was owning it. There was no advocate.” Supervisor Hillary Ronen was contacted for comment but did not respond.

‘Sex on the side of my house’

Now that Capp has closed, the same 16-year resident said, Shotwell’s more narrow strip from 14th to Cesar Chavez streets has seen a rise in property crimes and car damage. Sex workers are engaging customers on private property and leaving behind used condoms. Fights have broken out between sex workers, pimps and johns.

“I’ve had my car sideswiped twice,” she said. “I’ve had sex workers go inside my yard and have sex on the side of my house.”

And because Shotwell is narrower than Capp, residents say their cars are regularly hit by johns driving recklessly.

A damaged car with missing front bumper, exposed engine, and a blurred person walking by.
A damaged car is parked on Shotwell and 21st streets in San Francisco on Feb. 1. | Source: Loren Elliott for The Standard

Police incident data analyzed by The Standard is at odds with residents’ claims their cars keep being hit by reckless johns. The analysis showed no hit-and-run incidents logged since 2018 along Shotwell from 16th to 24th streets. Additionally, only eight prostitution incidents were logged from Feb. 1, 2021, to Feb. 1, 2024. A public records request to police showed just one incident listed as a “traffic collision, hit-and-run, property damage” at 23rd and Shotwell streets on April 6, 2023.

“If you were to go to Shotwell on any given night, the people who are driving have no regard for the safety of the people who live here,” the two-year street resident said. “Shotwell Street is a Slow Street and has very specific regulations. The way they drive, it seems like they are intoxicated. If I were walking when this activity is out, I wouldn’t feel safe on what is supposed to be a Slow Street.”

A white car with front-left damage, parked on a wet street at night, with other cars and street markings visible.
A damaged car is parked on Shotwell Street near 21st in San Francisco on Thursday. | Source: Loren Elliott for The Standard

A petition started by a Shotwell Street resident is now circulating online to install 16 license plate readers in the Mission District as soon as possible between 15th and 25th streets on Shotwell, Capp, Folsom, Treat and Harrison streets, South Van Ness Avenue and “any surrounding areas where sex trafficking occurs nightly.”

The two-year resident told The Standard that although San Francisco police officers come to deter sex workers from receiving solicitations on the street, they can’t be there 24 hours a day.

“Overall, what we’ve noticed is that as soon as the police are gone, they are back,” he added. “They know the drill.”

Joel Umanzor can be reached at