Reason Roundup

Warren Says She's 'Open to Decriminalizing Sex Work'; Klobuchar Still Says No Way

Plus: Democrats talk LGBTQ equality, California cracks down on mini-shampoo, and more...


Warren signals potential shift on sex worker rights. Two presidential candidates, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), made statements on sex work decriminalization yesterday.

While unveiling her Securing LGBTQ+ Rights and Equality Platform, Warren brought up the issue unprompted, tweeting that she was "open to decriminalizing sex work," that "sex workers, like all workers, deserve autonomy," and that sex workers "are particularly vulnerable to physical and financial abuse."

"The criminal justice system should work to ensure safety for all," Warren followed up. "My plan to reform our criminal justice system recognizes that LGBTQ+ individuals—particularly LGBTQ+ people of color—face unique risks and are disproportionately harmed, and takes steps to reform the status quo."

Speaking of status quo: Asked about the issue during a CNN town hall last night, Klobuchar still situated sex-work decrim as something that would harm children and women. Klobuchar said she opposes decriminalization because it would encourage human trafficking.

Klobuchar's answer is no surprise; she's a former prosecutor who has been behind some of the worst sex-work-related legislation in Congress over the past few years.

But Warren has been no good in this realm, either. Not only did she vote for FOSTA (almost everybody did), but she sponsored legislation that would encourage banks and other financial institutions to terminate sex workers' business accounts.

Journalist Melissa Gira Grant reached out to the Warren campaign, asking: "Does 'open' mean 'support'?" She was told, "It means she is open to it."

Still, the fact that this has become even this much of a prominent and mainstream issue still signals a positive shift. For perhaps the first time, leading politicians are framing sex worker rights and the decriminalization of prostitution as matters of harm reduction, labor rights, criminal justice reform, and LGBTQ concerns instead of just using the language of victims and criminals, enslavement and empowerment, human trafficking, or morality.

At least four other candidate for the Democratic nomination—Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), Kamala Harris (D–Calif.), and Cory Booker (D–N.J.)—have all made statements about decriminalizing sex work, though their statements haven't always been very clear.

Gabbard told Buzzfeed (to little fanfare) way back in March:

If a consenting adult wants to engage in sex work, that is their right, and it should not be a crime. All people should have autonomy over their bodies and their labor.

Booker also said unequivocally that "sex work should be decriminalized." After hedging on the issue at first, Booker in June told Buzzfeed:

As a general matter, I don't believe that we should be criminalizing activity between consenting adults, and especially when doing so causes even more harm for those involved.

The real question here is what will make sex workers safer and reduce exploitation, and abundant evidence points to decriminalization.

Harris claims to be for decriminalization, but in the same breath talks about arresting prostitution customers, making her part of a growing number of people trying to co-opt sex-worker-friendly language to push a carceral and generally anti-prostitution agenda. The only reason this contingent professes for disfavoring arrest of sex workers themselves (under certain circumstances) is by portraying all or at least the majority of them as victims—thereby making those who patronize, employ, or interact with them in any economic capacity (including landlords, websites where they advertise, hotels where they rent rooms, and so on) legally liable for these associations.

Sanders has been vague, saying things like "decriminalization is certainly something that should be considered" while still framing it almost entirely in term of sex trafficking:

It is a complicated issue. I think nobody wants to do anything which increases the horror of sex trafficking in this country, so it's an issue that has to be discussed. It is a complicated issue, but my promise to you is it's an issue that I will discuss, and we will hear from all sides and come up with the best solution that we can.

For what it's worth, neither the president nor Congress can directly "decriminalize sex work," as prostitution is not a federal crime.

Getting rid of laws surrounding commercial sexual activity between consenting adults is up to cities and states. Still, there are a number of ways that the federal government could incentivize states to do so, starting with putting to a stop to current federal law-enforcement pressure and incentives to intensify sex stings. It could also, for a start, repeal harmful federal laws related to prostitution, such as last year's FOSTA and the (still very much enforced) 1910 Mann Act.


Dispatches from the presidential LGBTQ equality forum. Nine Democrats running for president appeared on the televised CNN forum last night. The topics covered include the Equality Act, violence against transgender women and youth, the ban on transgender troops, and more. Reporter Chris Geidner offered a solid rundown on Twitter of what happened. Start here:

In other news from the forum:


Cities are banning fast-food drive-throughs. Their reasons are as diverse—public safety, car concerns, promoting weight loss—as they are silly. NPR reports:

Minneapolis became the latest city to pass an ordinance banning the construction of new drive-through windows. Similar legislation restricting or banning the ubiquitous windows has also passed in Creve Coeur, Mo.; Long Beach, Calif.; and Fair Haven, N.J.

They should heed the lessons of cities that have already tried this:

Obesity rates went up, not down, after South Los Angeles banned new stand-alone fast-food restaurants and drive-through windows, according to research published in the journal Social Science & Medicine in 2015. Sturm, the lead author, notes that the rates of overweight and obesity continued climbing in the three years following the ban.

"We need to be careful not to overstate what these bans can do," says Sturm. "If we want to lower obesity and want people to be healthier, [drive-through bans] are not going to achieve that."


  • Meanwhile, in Trumpworld: