Norma Hotaling

Sun Gate Foundation honors the life, legacy, and work of the late Norma Hotaling. Hotaling was an international American women’s-rights, anti-sex trafficking activist and one of the first US Survivor Leaders. Hotaling worked with groups in France, India, South Korea and other countries who requested her help to establish their own programs to address human trafficking.

Hotaling 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 worldwide.

She is the founder of SAGE (Standing Against Global Exploitation) which was a survivor led and survivor ran non-profit in San Francisco. SAGE serve as a resource, advocacy counseling and other direct services center for sexually exploited men and women. SAGE was regarded as a model program, and its mission was replicated by other agencies worldwide. Due to cuts in funding SAGE had to close its doors in 2014. 

On a federal level, she visited the White House and spoke with President George W. Bush about the conditions of trafficked women in America. On a local level, she regularly worked effectively with the Sheriff’s Office, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris. 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 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. 

She is instrumental in providing assistance to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office in the creation of  a first-of-its-kind class for men caught soliciting prostitutes. The First Offender Prostitution Program or as we know them as John School, 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. 

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.

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, Hotaling earned a bachelor’s degree in health education from San Francisco State University, graduating magna cum laude in 1992. By 1996, San Francisco State had put her on its list of outstanding alumni. 

In 2001, Oprah Winfrey chose 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. 

In an interview with The Chronicle in 1997, 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. “

In April 2008, Hotaling was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and died eight months later. 

Norma Hotaling has paved the way for may survivor leaders today and for that we honor her life, work and legacy.