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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Solace SF Shutters Amid Allegations of Fraud

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 7:02 AM

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Solace SF, a local faith-based nonprofit that served San Francisco's sex worker community, has shut down amid allegations that its founder, Laura Lasky, defrauded donors and beneficiaries and did not provide the services she claimed.

On its website, which was taken down on Tuesday, Solace SF stated its mission was to "meet the needs of men and women within the sex industry and those who are survivors of human trafficking." The organization purported to do so by offering "medical care, counseling, personal development, life skills, adult education assistance, recovery program materials, and more, completely free of charge to those we serve."

Lasky was also widely known in San Francisco's strip clubs as "the cupcake lady," where she spread awareness about her mission while distributing sweet treats and makeup.

See also: "Cupcake Lady" Brings Sweets -- and Hope -- to Sex Workers in S.F. Strip Clubs

In a statement released late Tuesday night, Solace SF's board members said, "Within the last 30 days, concerns were brought to our attention and we promptly called for a full audit of all activities in the organization (community support, personnel, and documentation). Due to the findings, we have directed Laura Lasky to cease leadership of Solace SF and have severed all ties to her as it relates to the organization. As a response to this breach of trust, we have decided to cease all operations of Solace SF."

Asked about the services Solace SF had claimed to provide, board chair Danny Bias told SF Weekly he could not confirm which, if any, of the services listed on the organization's website had been provided.

However, Lasky tells a different story. In an email, Lasky states she did in fact provide aid to sex workers in crisis. "A number of things were offered: one-on-one meet ups when someone needed to simply talk, sober living placement for those who desired to work on their recovery and be in a sober environment, transportation assistance, legal services, emergency groceries, help with emergency bill payment or rent, transportation (via BART/Clipper cards), and assisting survivors involved in trafficking were some of the things we did," she wrote.

Cupcakes also played a large part in Lasky's work: "Outreach is about 70% [of the job] so we could let people know we were available."

Contrary to the board's statement, Lasky asserts that Solace SF is not dissolving due to fraud, but rather due to "pressing personal family issues" that are taking her focus away from those she served. In regard to the board's audit, she says, "I do believe the air will be cleared. Those that served on the board are wonderful people who are committed to doing great things for amazing people."

Abeni, a Southern California-based nonprofit that also helps sex workers access resources, said in a Facebook post that it would attempt to fill the void left by Solace SF, at least temporarily. "We know that the sudden and recent loss of Solace SF has been stunning to many of you," the post said. "If you have a need, let us know and we'll do everything within our power to connect you to the right resource, org, or person." Abeni also referred workers in need to the Bay Area chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project.

Similarly, Solace SF's board encouraged workers to reach out to the Sex Workers Outreach Project: "We are deeply grieved in knowing that the trust once felt by this community has been replaced by confusion and betrayal and for that we are truly sorry. ... We know that SWOP Bay, St. James Infirmary, and Abeni are all organizations that offer reliable care, support, and resources to the SF [sex work] community and hope you will reach out to them should any needs arise."

The Sex Workers Outreach Project will host a community forum tonight at 5 p.m. at the Center for Sex and Culture for sex workers affected by Solace SF's closure. "Please join us for a community discussion as we share information, and discuss what support resources are currently available and the role of support organizations in the sex worker rights movement," the event invitation says. "We welcome stories of your experiences, both positive and negative, with Solace as we seek more clarity on the situation. This event is intended to be a place of healing and understanding as we move forward as a community."


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Kate Conger

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Kate Conger has written for SF Weekly since 2011.

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