Sex Work

Kamala Harris Won't Denounce Federal Law That Harms Sex Workers, but May Support Decriminalizing Prostitution

"I think that we have to understand though that it is not as simple as that."

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Screenshot/The Root

Since Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Ca.) announced her 2020 presidential campaign, she's been criticized by sex workers, activists, and media over her long history of advocating policies that harm sex workers. That includes the shutdown of websites where sex workers advertise, like Backpage.com, and the disastrous 2018 law, FOSTA, that made hosting web content that "facilitates prostitution" a federal crime.

Now, Harris appears to be trying to counter that critique by suggesting that she would be open to the decriminalization of prostitution.

In a video interview with The Root published today, Terrell J. Starr asked Harris about her support for FOSTA despite sex workers saying that it puts their lives in danger. Instead of answering, Harris pivoted to her history as a prosecutor. Harris claimed that all the way back in 2004, as district attorney for San Francisco, she was insisting "that we have to stop arresting these prostitutes."

However, as Harris pointed out, she also supported an increase in crackdowns on "johns," a.k.a. the clients of sex workers. This is what's known as the "Nordic Model" or the "End Demand" strategy. It's focused on arresting people who pay for sex but not those offering paid sex. Both sex workers and human rights groups like Amnesty International oppose this strategy.

Under the Nordic Model, sex workers are still subjected to police surveillance, stings, and raids meant to catch their customers. Meanwhile, crackdowns make customers more squeamish about sex-worker screening practices and other measures that can help keep them safe. That perpetuates the need for third-party involvement that at best cuts into potential earnings and independence, and can result in exactly the kinds of exploitative and controlling situations that End Demand advocates say they're fighting.

FOSTA and federal crackdowns on advertising platforms also create these problematic conditions. Online ad platforms, escort-review forums, hookup apps, and other staples of the digital era allowed people to engage in sex work without middlemen, to screen customers, and otherwise to take control of their working conditions in unprecedented numbers. Without these digital tools, people aren't abandoning sex work. Victims aren't suddenly safe and free. And police have lost a valuable method for helping them find and prosecute the cases of actual abuse and exploitation.

If Harris and law enforcement authorities want to target bad actors who exploit these tools to commit harm, they should target the bad actors themselves, not go after online venues that vastly more people use to positive effect. Harris supported FOSTA and targeted Backpage, twice, but was stopped by a judge both times. In the process, she supported actions that disproportionately punish the vast majority of users who fall into the "consenting adult" category Harris claims she doesn't want to target.

Eventually, in The Root interview, Starr asks Harris outright if she thinks "sex work should be decriminialized."

"I think so," Harris replied. "I do. I think that we have to understand though that it is not as simple as that."

Harris reiterated that people who do harm in the commercial sex arena should still be punished. That's certainly true, but that's not what's on the table. Advocates for ending the illegal status of prostitution aren't arguing that people who use violence, fraud, threats, or teenagers in sexual activity should be decriminalized.

But this is a space full of weasely language, and it's common to find people professing that they only want to go after those who engage in exploitation and harm, yet include in those categories any person who simply pays for sex or for sex-related activities.

Before the interview moved on, Harris told Starr "we should really consider that we can't criminalize consensual behavior." Harris has a worrying track record on this issue, but I'm glad to hear she's at least considering it.

Prostitution isn't a federal crime, so this actually comes down to reforming local and state laws. There's currently a push for decriminalization in New York, and hopefully more to follow elsewhere. Getting support from high-profile politicians like Harris could go a long way, so let's hope this nod of support from her wasn't just a fluke—and that more 2020 candidates will follow her lead.

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47 responses to “Kamala Harris Won't Denounce Federal Law That Harms Sex Workers, but May Support Decriminalizing Prostitution

  1. I repeat, FREE ROBERT KRAFT!

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  2. Well, it turns out that CO^2 is NOT the worst thing to happen to the ‘planet’.

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    The Guardian: What print media would look like if Tony wrote for it.

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  3. Kamala Harris Won’t Denounce Federal Law That Harms Sex Workers, But May Support Decriminalizing Prostitution

    She didn’t support decriminalizing prostitution as Commifornia’s Attorney general.

    1. Didn’t want the competition for Willy’s affection.

    2. She’s running for office and you expect consistency?

    3. “She didn’t support decriminalizing prostitution as Commifornia’s Attorney general.”

      When she was AG, she showed up at some hookers’ gathering and spoke about how she ‘supported’ them, and then did her best to keep prostitution illegal:
      “Harris has “at least a decade” of fighting “against campaigns to decriminalize consensual adult prostitution in California, ignoring the ardent lobbying of sex workers, criminal justice reformers, and human rights advocates.”
      https://www.nationalreview.com/2019
      /01/kamala-harris-bad-on-criminal-justice/
      (referring to an ENB article here)

  4. If a legislature proposed that the state stop arresting drug dealers, but only prosecute drug buyers would that be considered “decriminalization”?

  5. However, as Harris pointed out, she also supported an increase in crackdowns on “johns,” aka the clients of sex workers. This is what’s known as the “Nordic Model” or the “End Demand” strategy. It’s focusd on arresting people who pay for sex but not those offering paid sex. Both sex workers and human-rights groups like Amnesty International oppose this strategy.

    I think women who have been human trafficked for sexual purposes, women who live in deplorable conditions and cannot leave their situation should have to endure months and months of giving blowjobs to johns just so that those johns can be later arrested and fined for a small amount.

    1. Slavery is illegal as well as indentured servitude unless you are duly convicted of a crime.

      If women are sex slaves, then investigate and prosecute those crimes.

      These ‘incidents’ are mostly adult women who voluntarily trade sex for money. The few minors involved in prostitution are not worth the billions that law enforcement want to shift from the War on Drugs to sex.

    2. That would be a better argument if there were any actual evidence for human trafficking, kidnapping or involuntary servitude in any of the places that police are looking or running their sting operations.

  6. jfc The Root, just like everything at Gizmodo, is hot garbage. Even the Venezuelans would pass on that.

    1. Says the guy who gets his sports news from Deadspin….

      1. Deadspin still reports on sports…..?

        1. Ever since Ted Cruz took ownership they only report on Canadian Football and curling. Damn Canadians ruin everything

          1. So 3/4ths of a sport and drunks pitching rocks.

  7. “”she’s been criticized by sex workers, activists, and media over her long history of advocating policies that harm sex workers.””

    That’s okay, she’ll still get the social conservative vote!

  8. Kamala Harris criticizing prostitution is like Elizabeth Warren criticizing cultural appropriation.

  9. There is never any talk about male sex-work, only a wave of the hand and saying ‘well – that’s different.’

    It happens a lot more than people think it does.

    1. That being said, there are a surprisingly few amount of people who will pay me to let them feed me my cum.

      1. Hetero male sex workers are VASTLY under-employed v/s female hetero sex workers!!!

        We need affirmative action for hetero male sex workers NOW!!!

        (Else I would be tempted to suspect that pussy is more valuable than penis, and that just can NOT be true!!!!)

        1. Aren’t you supportive of the Free Robert Kraft campaign?

          #Cummingfor7

    2. I paid you your 10 bucks Mongo, quit complaining!

    3. I paid you your 10 bucks Mongo, quit complaining!

  10. “I do. I think that we have to understand though that it is not as simple as that.”

    Actually, it really is that simple. You legalize it. Suddenly every prostitute can offer their services legally. Pimps and other miscreants will be out of work and you can regulate employment the same way you verify anyone else in the private sector.

    Maybe there should be a work requirement to seek public office. Must have worked at least 20 years in the private sector to seek public office.

  11. Before the interview moved on, Harris told Starr “we should really consider that we can’t criminalize consensual behavior.”

    Non-candidate Harris will take that challenge!

    1. Harris has a libertarian side then… We crazy libertarians should start thinking about voting for her, then!!!

      1. That’s like voting for Bernie because he offers slight support for 2A.

  12. Getting in the presidential race early:

    Pro: Money and staff.
    Con: They will ask you all the questions, and it only takes one to end this for you.

  13. Who gives a shit about Harris’ views on prostitution. It’s not within the purview of the Feds, anyway.

    But, ooooh, what a bright and shiny thing it is. Just like legalising weed, or buttsex between consenting dogs and cats, or whatever the cause-du-jour. Never mind that Kamala will increase the size of the state beyond anything attempted so far.

    1. Beyond when we increased it in order to defeat Hitler and usher in the modern world as we know it?

      1. Given that you are uneducated, I saved you at least four hours of searching.
        Yes, beyond that:
        http://stats.areppim.com/stats…..istory.htm

  14. She’s clearly bought into the Orwellian idea of calling Sweden’s model of prohibitionism “partial decriminalization”. Given how Swedish and Norwegian police expend incredible energies surveilling and harassing sex workers, you could hardly call them decriminalized in any manner.

    Let’s not forget how Harris and her ilk fail to recognize the positive benefits of another model, put in place by police in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. Not content with waiting for Canada’s version of the Swedish model to be repealed, law enforcement in these cities have enacted a form of de-facto decriminalization, only engaging in arrests when violence and/or coercion are clearly involved. These have led to measurable improvements in safety for sex workers — but don’t tell that to Kamala Harris or Swanee Hunt (who likely gave big bucks to Harris’s campaign war chests).

  15. “Before the interview moved on, Harris told Starr “we should really consider that we can’t criminalize consensual behavior.” Harris has a worrying track record on this issue, but I’m glad to hear she’s at least considering it.

    You’d have to be a fool to take this shark at her word.

    1. Exactly. This is pandering to an older liberal demographic and will be discarded, along with her support for pot legalization, the minute her ass sits down in an Oval Office chair.

  16. Decriminalization is a start. I worked for pot.The ultimate goal would be legalization of prostitution. There will always be opponents preaching the end of society. The moralist, and fat, ugly, sexless wives.

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  18. She is against free speech and in favor of the moral hysteria around sexuality and especially about adults consenting to have sex when money may be involved. She is better than Trump, but not by much.

    1. Name one way she is better than Trump.

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