There isnt much to recommend the current iteration of American presidential elections, which now begin some two years before the day voters go to the polls. One upside, though, is that it opens up policy conversations that are usually closed off. The result is the beginning of a public conversation about decriminalizing sex work.

Three Democratic contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination — Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — have weighed in on the rights of sex workers. Harris and Gabbard have said they support the decriminalization of sex work, while Sanders was noncommittal in his response. The mere fact that presidential candidates are being asked about sex work, however, represents a shift in the public discourse on the sex work community. Yet there’s a ways to go: The Intercept reached out to the other congressional Democrats running for president — Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke — and got no response.

The sex workers’ rights movement was galvanized in 2018 in reaction to the passage of legislation known as SESTA-FOSTA, which purported to curb sex trafficking by holding online platforms legally liable for any content found to “knowingly assist, facilitate, or support sex trafficking.” All congressional Democrats running for president voted for SESTA-FOSTA.

Passage of the law resulted in the shutdown of prominent personal ad sites and marketplaces, forcing sex workers to resort to working on the streets or with pimps. It also led sex workers, who often feel abandoned by the progressive left, to organize and ramp up their activism. The urgency of the situation is pushing advocates to define what they actually mean by “decriminalization” and to push for policy changes at state, local, and national levels. The organizing has produced the most results in New York, where activists working with lawmakers have launched a campaign to decriminalize sex work in the state, and it’s also created tensions around the Democratic Socialists of America’s endorsement of Sanders for president.

 

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The ​decriminalization  of  Sex Work is edging into the 2020 campaign by Aida Chavez

March 29th, 2019