Sex Work

Only Tulsi Gabbard Wants to Decriminalize Sex Work, but Other Dems Show Signs of Progress on the Issue

"If a consenting adult wants to engage in sex work, that is their right," Gabbard says.

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A majority of Americans now favor "removing criminal penalties for adults to sell and pay for consensual sex," with support particularly high among Democrats and younger voters but also crossing party and age lines. Yet most of the Democrats running for president prefer to keep quiet about sex work issues, and only one remaining candidate—Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii)—has publicly expressed support for decriminalizing prostitution.

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

Gabbard is the only one to get a good grade on a recent report card put out by the group Decriminalize Sex Work (DSW). "Gabbard supports the full decriminalization of sex work, which removes criminal and civil penalties from adults engaged in consensual acts of prostitution," the group reports.

DSW gave Gabbard an A-. She didn't get a perfect score because she voted for FOSTA, which made hosting content that facilitates prostitution a federal crime. FOSTA and the federal war on websites like Backpage have made sex work more dangerous and made it harder for police to find people who do need help, according to preliminary evidence. All of the Democratic presidential candidates in Congress voted for FOSTA, with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar signing on a co-sponsor of the Senate companion bill (SESTA), as did former presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Recently, though, Rep. Ro Khanna (D–Calif.) introduced legislation that he sees as a potential first step to FOSTA's repeal—and the bill's Senate companion was introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) as a co-sponsor. (Ron Wyden of Oregon, the only Democrat in the Senate to vote against FOSTA in the first place, is also a co-sponsor.)

"As lawmakers, we are responsible for examining unintended consequences of all legislation, and that includes any impact SESTA-FOSTA may have had on the ability of sex workers to protect themselves from physical or financial abuse," said Warren in December, when the SAFE SEX Workers Study Act was introduced.

Warren tweeted last July that she's "open to decriminalization" of prostitution. But she's also fond of financial regulations that make it harder for people in sex workers (even in legal industries) to get bank accounts or use online payment processors.

DSW gave Warren a C+ and Sanders a C, the same grade given to Pete Buttigieg.

The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor has made few statements about the issue. (His campaign did not respond to Reason's request for comment.) He told Out magazine in May 2019 that he was "not ready to make policy news on this yet." But he also sounded at least amendable to changing in a sex-worker-rights-friendly direction some day.

"We now understand that [FOSTA] harmed vulnerable people," Buttigieg told Out last year. "This needs to be part of a larger conversation about how we treat sex workers and all of the reasons why this society hesitates to embrace the idea of sex work. I don't think all of those ideas are wrong."

That candidates are routinely being asked about sex work this election is itself noteworthy. "In the last campaign cycle, there were not candidates talking about sex work," says Melissa Sontag Broudo, general counsel for Decriminaize Sex Work and co-founder of the Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights Institute.

"Just to see this conversation happening on this level is, I think, huge," she adds.

"It's the first time sex work has become an issue in a presidential election—that's historic," says Bella Robinson, who has been doing sex work for more than three decades and leads the Rhode Island chapter of Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics. After FOSTA passed, Robinson's group worked with the Sex Workers Outreach Project to study the effect on sex workers. (See highlights from their research here.)

Robinson is wary of proposals like the Warren and Sanders-sponsored sex work study bill and accuses the candidates of merely paying "lip service" to sex worker rights. "I agree we could use more research," she says. "But why would we trust the government?"

Robinson's group has tried to reach out to the Warren and Sanders campaigns, with little luck, she tells me.

Broudo and others at Decriminalize Sex Work attempted to talk with someone on the campaign of all of the remaining Democratic candidates, though some were more receptive than others. "Repeated attempts to contact [Andrew] Yang's campaign went unanswered," according to Kaytlin Bailey, communications director for Decriminalize Sex Work. The same went for Joe Biden's campaign. (Yang's team responded to me promptly, but only to say he has no comment.)

One campaign that did respond to the group was Klobuchar's, and the representative was polite and seemed open to hearing them out, according to Broudo. She says she considers even open-mindedness from candidates like Klobuchar something of a success, and "a pretty big signal" that the conversation around sex work is shifting.

Klobuchar has a history of spouting crazy sex-trafficking myths and backing the bad policies that stem from them. She now "appears to support the Suppression Model," says the Decriminalize Sex Work report card (which gives her D+), as does Yang (who got a D).

The Suppression Model is also known as partial criminalization, the Nordic Model, the Swedish Model, and—in a recent rebranding attempt—the Equality Model. Under this approach, prostitution is still a crime and paying for sex still totally illegal, but offering paid sex in certain circumstances is not.

The idea has become popular among European feminists and well-funded U.S. advocacy groups. But public health and human rights organizations—including Amnesty International and the World Health Organization—tend to favor full decriminalization.

Decriminalization differs from legalization, the prostitution regulatory scheme seen in some European countries and in a few counties in Nevada. Legalization refers to a scheme where prostitution is permitted in limited and highly regulated circumstances, but exchanging sex for something of value outside these circumstances will still get you thrown in jail.

The method most of the U.S. abides by now is full criminalization, in which paying for or offering paid sexual services is a criminalized, along with a host of otherwise legal activities if they're done in service of a sex worker.

Mike Bloomberg, who enthusiastically embraced full criminalization during his time as mayor of New York City, was the only Democratic candidate given a failing grade on the DSW report card. "Arrest rates for prostitution were 30% higher during Bloomberg's tenure as mayor," the DSW report states, citing data from the New York Division of Justice Services and noting that "the spike in arrest rates almost exclusively targeted black New Yorkers."

Since prostitution is not a federal crime, talking to presidential candidates about decriminalization may seem strange. But presidents pick federal justice officials and help set the tone for law enforcement priorities, and the feds fund and incentivize a lot of local prostitution stings around the country. There are many ways a president could make a difference on sex worker rights and the enforcement of laws against them.

Last summer, Cristine Sardina, director of the Desiree Alliance, spent the month of July in Iowa talking to Democratic candidates about issues including criminal justice reform, immigration, and sex worker rights. "I saw most of them at various rallies, private homes, and bars/restaurants," she tells me in an email.

Sardina also made a fact sheet titled "Consensual Sex Work Versus Sex Trafficking" and "presented it to most of their interns or the candidate directly. The interns were mostly young and all grasped the idea of [sex work] decrim enthusiastically," she writes. "Now, if we could only get the candidates to say that."

NEXT: Joe Biden Blocked Robert Bork's Supreme Court Nomination. Now, Biden Is Getting 'Borked' Too.

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  1. Democrats will NEVER 100% legalize sex work like selling apparel products is 100% legal.

    Democrats will deregulate to still over regulate and tax the shit out of sex work.

    Only Libertarians would be for 100% legalizing sex work since it’s none of government’s business to control what consenting adults do to themselves.

    1. Democrats will NEVER 100% legalize sex work like selling apparel products is 100% legal.

      They’ve got you there. You can’t even *design* clothes in New York without the City telling you who can sit on the board and which restrooms they can use.

      1. No. Because selling apparel is 100% legal.

        Running a corporation or having a bathroom is not required to sell apparel.

        1. No. Because selling apparel is 100% legal.

          I didn’t say it wasn’t, I was pointing out that democrats are more than willing to achieve the criteria of ‘100% legalized sex work’ by meeting you halfway. You probably aren’t even giving them ideas:

          1) Regulate selling apparel until it’s “50% legal”.
          2) Deregulate sex work to the same level.
          3) Achieve “100% legal sex work”.

        2. Meh, it’s mad.casual. Guy is retarded.

    2. When is the GOP going to do this, Trumpian? I mean, Dear Leader would be for it since his wife is effectively a high-priced prostitute, but where do you see the men in the GOP with their Bibles and abortion restrictions doing so?

      1. “When is the GOP going to do this, Trumpian?”

        When are you going to grow up and pay your bills, scumbagian?

    3. Sex work is not moral. Drug usage is not moral. Abortion is not moral. The government legalizing it, tells young people today, that is is okay to do these things. It is not. None of them are okay. They are the path to misery and suffering. Seek out impulsive pleasure and animalistic euphoria, and you become a slave to them. Their existence destroys the nuclear family and invites suffering to everyone inside that circle.

      1. Coveting thy neighbors BMW is not moral – slacker daddy government needs to hurry up and outlaw jealousy for our own good! Only bad people stop to think about whether the government might abuse the power my narrow conception of morality! If I don’t think stuff is “okay” there should be laws to stop it!!!

        1. You are right to reject the moral argument, but there are more legit reasons to outlaw prostitution and drugs. (Abortion may need a different argument)

          It’s difficult to determine when sex-work becomes slavery or when drug use becomes drug addiction. If you aren’t free to sell your sex labor or free to voluntarily trade for your drugs, then there can be no rational prices or rational allocation of resources.

          If the gov’t’s only real job is to protect individuals from coercive association, the maye it should protect folks from prostitution and drugs. They result in the theft.

          1. You are right to reject the moral argument…

            Disagree. All laws are based on a moral argument. Are you rejecting of all laws? I don’t think so.

            …but there are more legit reasons to outlaw prostitution and drugs. (Abortion may need a different argument)

            And which of those reasons isn’t a moral argument???

            It’s difficult to determine when sex-work becomes slavery or when drug use becomes drug addiction.

            Why does it matter? If we are to reject the moral argument – why does it matter??? (Hint: It doesn’t).

            If you aren’t free to sell your sex labor or free to voluntarily trade for your drugs, then there can be no rational prices or rational allocation of resources.

            Why do you need to be free? Why does it need to be voluntary? Is it because freedom is the moral argument?

            If the gov’t’s only real job is to protect individuals from coercive association, the maybe it should protect folks from prostitution and drugs. They result in the theft.

            That’s right. Pretty much already concluded thousands of years ago and documented in a very popular book called the “Bible.” The “Bible” is a book of morals. It doesn’t always tell you what the moral of the story is, but your subconscious understands the stories and can extract meaning from them. If a person is an atheist, and hates the idea of God, or reject, even to some degree, the idols and caricatures of churches today, the stories in the Bible have mostly addressed the moral conclusions of certain behaviors already. The Bible is an empirical work of moral conclusions, written over a very long period from stories much older even than the period from which it was written.

        2. Coveting thy neighbors BMW is not moral – slacker daddy government needs to hurry up and outlaw jealousy for our own good! Only bad people stop to think about whether the government might abuse the power my narrow conception of morality! If I don’t think stuff is “okay” there should be laws to stop it!!!

          I think we should legalize murder. Who am I to judge the morality revolving around such a narrow conception of morality. After all, we don’t make laws based on morals right??? Ideally, we should zero laws at all, because the government might abuse that power. We are “multicultural” and who am I to force those ideas on other cultures? If any one of us don’t think stuff is okay, don’t even think about laws to stop it! Anything goes people!

          1. You are right. I misspoke above. At bottom, protecting the rights of man is a moral issue. It doesn’t seem this position will get much support here.

            I guess I was trying to see how prostitution and drug use might undermine the rational allocation of resources. I think they do, but they are — more importantly — wrong.

            Apologies

            1. Would you agree that reasonable people might have different opinions about what constitutes decadent sex or drug use and still be able to get along with each other / refrain from acrimony?

  2. So how does the hooer union rate Trump?

    1. Been watching too many Sopranos reruns?

  3. DSW gave Gabbard an A-. She didn’t get a perfect score because she voted for FOSTA, which made hosting content that facilitates prostitution a federal crime. FOSTA and the federal war on websites like Backpage

    LIke I said, change the polling question to include Backpage.com and watch the Democrats fold like a cheap deck of cards.

    1. Only Tulsi Gabbard Wants to Decriminalize Sex Work

      Democrats have been sexualizing their existence for decades. No surprise a democrat wants to decriminalize such an undignified life. Democrats should decriminalize murder next. After all, it’s unenforceable, and who am I to judge right? How many billions of dollars to we wasted on murder cases?

  4. Oooh, Oooh, get Jeff Bezos and Amazon get into the sex trade business.

    1. Do I have to sign up for Amazon Prime for that?

        1. But your package will take two days to come.

          1. That’s some really bad viagra.

          2. Ooh… tantra?

          3. You’re never funny.

          4. like Sting claims

  5. “presented it to most of their interns or the candidate directly. The interns were mostly young and all grasped the idea of [sex work] decrim enthusiastically,” she writes. “Now, if we could only get the candidates to say that.”

    If there’s one group of people intimately familiar with whoring themselves out…

  6. What’s the spread for pro-/anti- sex work (strictly independent of engaging in it)? 1 full point each way? Half a point?

    An attractive and successful woman like Gabbard who’s a solid 7-8 starts nudging into 8-9 territory when she’s OK with other women having sex for money. At the very least, it lowers the slope of the ‘crazy line’ on the crazy/hot graph right?

  7. Tulsi Gabbard- Issues

    Poor unreason. Still pushing Socialists for Presidential candidates.

    1. But you can work with them!!! Socialists are just misguided and wrong and hold those faulty beliefs out of misconception, not out of some evil desire to rule and exert control.

      And that’s why all those oppression, famines, and massacres in countries that socialists took over weren’t the result of *real* socialism!!!

  8. If only ENB was as concerned about freedom of speech and religion, as she is about legal hookers and blow.

    1. Those _are_ freedom of religion issues. We’re not supposed to have shariah in America.

      1. You’re confusing ‘freedom of’ with ‘freedom from’.

  9. Warren doesn’t support it because she realizes that ain’t nobody going to pay her for that.

    1. I’m sure someone has a Pocahontas fetish.

      1. She can dress up and you can stick it in a pound of Land O Lakes.

  10. “But he also sounded at least *amendable* to changing in a sex-worker-rights-friendly direction some day.” [emphasis added]

    I think you mean “amenable.”

    1. Reason:
      Now hiring editors; call 800-XXX-XXXX

  11. Leave it to government to screw up a bill aimed at sex trafficking.

    Go after people involved in sex trafficking. That is, where women are forced into sex work, and sent somewhere to work. But then we had to water down the definition of trafficking and screw it all up.

    1. Well, they tried that but they couldn’t find any, so they switched to something easier…

      1. Well, they tried that but they couldn’t find any

        The problem is that they want to have their #metoo moment and eat it too.

  12. Wow…such a compelling case for a socialist from (T)reason Magazine.

    I look forward to your upcoming article “The Libertarian Argument For Bernie Sanders…Because Orange Man Bad”

    1. Seems they’re stating the facts and letting the reader decide who to vote for.
      Besides Trump’s going to win regardless of who the D camp runs, so don’t get your panties in a bunch worrying about it cupcake.

      1. Just stating the facts and letting the reader decide
        Just selectively stating one fact and ignoring literally every other fact that directly contradicts the thrust of the one fact they listed. It’s exactly like when Trumpistas bust a nut about “muh judishul abboindments”.

        1. “It’s exactly like when Trumpistas bust a nut about “muh judishul abboindments”.”

          No it’s not.
          First, Trump actually DID that.
          Secondly no one here suffers from GDS sufficiently to compose fucking idiotic supposed quotes.
          Stuff your TDS up your ass so your head has some company.

          1. Lol LeaveTrumpAloneLibertarian is bad at socking.

  13. “All people should have autonomy over their bodies and their labor.”

    Apparent consistency wrt drugs.

  14. “If a consenting adult wants to engage in sex work, that is their right”

    I’m against criminal vice laws (though naturally I support antislavery laws, antirape laws, health laws, and protection-of-minors laws).

    But my opposition to criminal vice laws is for practical reasons – I think such laws open the door to a whole lot of corruption and abuse.

    I rarely buy the “consenting adult” rationale because in plenty of cases, not all the relevant adults have consented. Specifically, when one spouse goes to a hooker without the other spouse’s consent, where’s the “consenting adult” paradigm then? The wronged spouse may even have a civil case against the hooker for “criminal conversation,” even though (contrary to the name) it’s a civil lawsuit not a criminal prosecution.

    That would leave it up to the wronged spouse to decide whether going after the hooker is worth it. Leaving that choice to cops and prosecutors means that it’s fairly arbitrary, or maybe it would even depend on who’s getting paid off and who isn’t.

    1. “ Specifically, when one spouse goes to a hooker without the other spouse’s consent, where’s the “consenting adult” paradigm then?”

      Are you saying that marriage legally gives one spouse agency over the other spouses body?

      1. I suppose that is the twisted nonsense argument.

        Actually most marriages the real issues are when it is an affair. Mostly he or she doesn’t want to know what happened at the batchelor party or girls night because there is no commitment or emotional involvement.

        Even then it is no business of government.

      2. Are you saying that marriage legally gives one spouse agency over the other spouses body?

        Are you saying it doesn’t?

        1. Yes I am. Feel free to prove me wrong without resorting to religious texts.

  15. Only Tulsi Gabbard is worth voting for.

    1. She’s good on a few issues, otherwise, she’s a typical big government progressive nanny. She’s not going to win the Democrat nomination anyways because she’s not completely batshit crazy, which appears to be their gold standard.

      1. She is hot though.

    2. “Only Tulsi Gabbard is worth voting for.”
      She has one decent position; she’s NWS.

      1. She has one decent position;

        Given what I’ve seen of her standing and sitting, I can only assume she’s decent lying down, on her knees, and on all fours as well.

    3. “Only Tulsi Gabbard is worth voting for.“

      There isn’t anyone running that is worth voting “for”. But there are plenty worth voting “against”.

  16. Sexworkers
    That’s the cause?
    LOL

  17. The problem is that both teams at best would only agree the decriminalizing the selling and cracking down harder on the buying which doesn’t help because it keeps everything underground. If they really gave a shit about the safety of the women, they would support full legalization. There’s an initiative in Ohio right now to create a public database of “Johns”.

  18. But I think we can all agree there’s something surreal about politicians weighing in on the morality of prostitution. Like listening to Keith Richards talk about how unhealthy chewing gum is.

  19. The Dems sure as hell don’t want to be recorded answering questions about uninspected entry in crossing borders.

  20. “financial regulations that make it harder for people in sex workers”

    Oh, ENB… your senior editorness needs editing. Preferably by someone who can recognize a Freudian slip…

  21. “All people should have autonomy over their bodies and their labor” rings kinda hollow when they want to confiscate 2/3 of my labor to pay for someone else’s fetishes.

    1. “you didn’t build that”

  22. Let’s see…

    Anti war veteran

    Legalize pot and end drug war

    Decriminalize prostitution

    Can do more push ups than any other candidate

    Democrats and Republicans can’t stand her

    And well sugar sugar honey honey

    https://youtu.be/64mAgL8G4-E

    No wonder she hasn’t got a chance. Those old fogeys are scared to death of her.

    1. Lets see…
      Two worthwhile positions, one now commonplace, along with a lot of armwaving.
      “Gabbard’s political positions are broadly similar to those of other 2020 Democratic primary contenders on healthcare, climate, education, infrastructure, and criminal justice reform.”
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_positions_of_Tulsi_Gabbard
      (yeah, I know it’s Wiki but E’s normal claims really aren’t worth a lot of time, and certainly not here)
      You.
      Are.
      Full.
      Of.
      Shit.

  23. “If a consenting adult wants to engage in sex work, that is their right, and it should not be a crime,” Gabbard said in a statement this weekend to Reason. “All people should have autonomy over their bodies and their labor.”

    I agree with Tulsi. I also think anyone who works in sex work should have to file for the proper paperwork, pay taxes, and be insured. If I enter into an ER, Hallmark card store, Wawa Food Market, or a Del Taco and get chlamydia as a result I can sue. It should be the same for a sex worker.

    I can’t wait for the new State Farm commercials.

    1. Lame at best.
      The argument is nowhere that sex-workers are to be exempt from the same ridiculous gov’t requirements as any other free-lancer.
      Did you think that was some ‘blow for morality’?

      1. Let’s use critical thinking on this one.

        Without the NV brothel-style system in place decriminalization does nothing to help. The NV brothel-style system barely helps anyone as well.

        What happens when you make money and you don’t claim it?

        If it is decriminalized it will most likely result in a summary offense. That’s better than going to jail for sure.

        How can you claim money on something that isn’t legal?

        The summary offense can then lead to an audit. Once it is shown that the person has been making money and not paying any tax on it there is a problem. I doubt jail would be required, at least not at first. Fines? Oh yeah. That means someone is sucking and fucking to pay off debts.

        Woman has no job, apartment, utilities paid, and is caring for a kid. State payments don’t cover full costs. “Excuse me, ma’am. How are you doing that?”

        The IRS just became the new pimp. You pay us now or you go to jail.

        One can come out and be in favor of decriminalization. Sure. Awesome. It’s just pandering because I’m pretty sure that Tulsi understands that it then leads to other problems like the more profitable way to jail prostitutes as I’ve just described.

        The way to avoid this is to have full legalization, but then liability comes in. If you’re not compliant you’re illegal once again. The number of women that will be able to be compliant will be few. Then there is the problem of selling a service. Anonymity is gone. Imagine hiring a licensed carpenter and not being able to check to see if he is who he says he is.

        Careful what you ask for because you may get it.

    2. She: “What is this?”

      He: “some antibiotics. Went to the doctor today. Just take them.”

      S “Why? Are you sick?”

      He (cough) “ yes” (cough)

      She “You weren’t sick yesterday or this morning. You went to work.”

      He “They said I caught something from that hallmark card I bought you last week for our anniversary”

      She “I’m taking these. Pack up your stuff. I want you out of here by morning.” (Slams bedroom door)

      1. I see you’ve given some strong evidence that you’re not real bright; did you hope your fantasy would suggest otherwise?

      2. If I enter into an ER, Hallmark card store, Wawa Food Market, or a Del Taco and get chlamydia as a result I can sue.

        Or a John Deere dealership.

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  25. “financial regulations that make it harder for people in sex workers”
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  26. She didn’t get a perfect score because she voted for FOSTA,

    which coincidentally is the only relevant item federal officeholders had a say over. Just sayin’.

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  30. Is pimping considered sex work? It’s hard to imagine a politician coming up with a pro-pimping platform.

  31. Democrats AND Republicans hate buy-sexuals.

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