Kamala Harris Isn’t Promoting Sex Work, But She Should Make It Safer

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 
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Because the pearl clutching Trumpers won’t let go of the idea that Democrats are eating babies and running pedophile rings, they have dug up a YouTube video with the title “Senator Kamala Harris Wants To Legalize Prostitution” to further their arguments. I watched the Jesus lovers drop to their knees in prayer (also the same position one may give a blow job, BTW) in the comment section and claim their disgust.

These people can’t see their way through nuance or facts, so they jumped to two conclusions: Sex work is the root of all evil, and Harris is in favor of it. Neither is true. Sex work is real work, and the people doing it should be protected. Also, Harris has actually been a little wishy-washy on her stance when it comes to decriminalizing sex work, and many sex worker advocates see her as doing more harm than good when it comes to their safety.

There are a lot of layers to the topic of decriminalizing sex work, but it’s important to understand that by making prostitution criminal, it makes it unsafe for the people who are assumed to be prostitutes or who are selling their bodies out of want or need. I know the argument is that if sex work is unsafe, then people shouldn’t do it; that would solve all of the problems, right? However, that’s not how life works. Prostitution is considered the oldest profession, and will likely be the one that survives until the end of time. People are going to fuck for money whether you think they should or not. Plenty of sex workers enjoy their work, and others use sex as their last resort to support themselves. Others are forced into it because of sex trafficking. Without protections in place, we can’t “save” anyone, and the way to protect people—yes, even the coerced victims—would be to stop criminalizing sex workers.

Here is where Harris “promoting prostitution” comes into place. The SESTA/FOSTA legislation was meant to protect people from sex predators and stop sex trafficking—both of which I agree with—but it also eliminated the ability of sex workers to use online platforms to meet clients. These platforms had allowed sex workers to vet the people they would be meeting. Harris was one of the co-sponsors of the SESTA/FOSTA anti-sex trafficking legislation. Public accountability made sex workers safer. A 2017 study from West Virginia University and Baylor University found a 17 percent drop in rates of homicide against women, which correlated to Craigslist having an Erotic section.

When Harris was attorney general in California, she was active in shutting down, a site that allowed ads for sex workers and was used by escorts; it had kept sex workers safer because the site was used predominantly by people doing consensual sex work. Unfortunately, like many platforms, was used for sex trafficking, and Harris focused only on the safety of those victims instead of realizing how many other victims she created. One would think leaving a digital trail would make it easier to catch actual sex criminals, but instead sex workers went back into the dark along with the traffickers who would find other ways to do their damage. In an interview with The Root, Harris said she is open to seeing sex work decriminalized, and this is what is giving fuel to the Bible beaters and Trumpers.

Sex advocates and sex workers aren’t confident in Harris and think she will only partially criminalize sex work, meaning she would punish the people, mostly men, making money off of sex work. This is called the Nordic model because it has been used in many Nordic countries, but it’s not enough. Partial decriminalization is not likely to make sex workers safer.

Too many people buy into the idea that police officers are meant to protect and serve all citizens—they are meant to keep us safe. I hope we all know by now that the police system was built on racism and is still infected with systemic racism. Too often, power comes before protection with police officers, and that is always self-serving. Because sex work is illegal except in Nevada and licensed brothels, cops exert their power and extend their racism to prostitutes. This adds to the mass incarceration of Black people, queer people, and Black transgender women. LGBTQIA+ folks make up a large percent of the homeless population because they were kicked out of homes, lost employment, or were rejected by the church because of their identity. LGBTQIA+ folks often rely on sex work as a means of survival. Transgender women, specifically transgender women of color, are at a high risk for murder.

Police often abuse sex workers by threatening to arrest them unless given a sexual favor or they arrest a sex worker when they report a crime done to them by a “john.” Sex workers are also at risk for being harassed or arrested by the police for having condoms on them. Cops use condoms as evidence of a crime, rather than a form of protection against STIs and pregnancy. Often a sex worker will avoid health care because of the stigma surrounding their work or because they can’t afford it. Since sex work isn’t legal, workers don’t have access to employer health insurance or other benefits. Instead of wondering how the system failed someone who needs to sell sex to survive, criminalizing prostitution adds to the harm done to those without options.

So before you get all judgy and demand people find Jesus to save their souls from damnation while posting headlines that only appeal to your bias, do some research. Challenge what you think you know and ask yourself what would be best to protect the people you claim to be praying for. Confirmation bias can barely be used in the case of Harris and her stance on prostitution. She is not promoting prostitution, but it seems like she is willing to make changes to ultimately protect sex workers while punishing sex criminals—yes, the two are different—and that’s a good thing.

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