Kamala Harris supports decriminalizing sex work
Sen. Kamala D. Harris said Tuesday that she supports the decriminalization the world’s oldest profession as long as strict protections against sex trafficking remain on the books.
Asked in an interview with The Root whether sex work ought to be decriminalized, Ms. Harris, a contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said, ’“I think so I do.”
“I think that we have to understand though that it is not as simple as that,” the California Democrat said. “It is also about there is an ecosystem around that that includes crimes that harm people and for those issues, I do not believe that anybody who hurts another human being or profits off of their exploitation should be admonished or free of criminal prosecution.”
“But when you are talking about consenting adults, I think that you know, yes, we should really consider that we can’t criminalize consensual behavior as long as no one is being harmed,” she said. “But at the point that anyone is being harmed or exploited, I think that we have to understand that is a different matter.”
Liberal activists have raised concerns about Ms. Harris’ past as a prosecutor since entering the 2020 presidential race.
Last year, she voted in favor of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, also known as FOSTA, that sailed through both chambers of Congress in response to websites such as Backpage.com, which was accused of knowingly letting underage girls be sold online for sex.
Some advocacy groups warned the bill hurt sex workers and have held that it’s time to end the criminalization of prostitution.
“Backpage was providing advertisements for the sale of children or minors, and unlike Craigslist which said we are going to stop doing it, the people who were running Backpage basically thumbed their nose at us and kept doing it making money off the sale of youth,” Ms. Harris said. “So I called for them to be shut down, and I have no regrets about that.”
“Now on the issue of providing a safe place for sex workers, I am a huge advocate for that I always have been,” Ms. Harris said.
Ms. Harris told The Root that when she entered the district attorney’s office in San Francisco in 2004, that she advocated that “we have to stop arresting these prostitutes and instead go after the johns and pimps because we were criminalizing the women and not the men who were associated with it, and making money off of it.”
Before that, she said she led a coalition that called for safe houses instead of incarceration of prostitutes.
Activists on Twitter, meanwhile, raised doubts about her past, pointing to a New York Times story from 2008 in which Ms. Harris called a push to stop enforcing laws against prostitution in San Francisco, called Proposition K, “ridiculous.”
“I think it’s completely ridiculous, just in case there’s any ambiguity about my position,” Ms. Harris, then San Francisco’ district attorney, said at the time. “It would put a welcome mat out for pimps and prostitutes to come on into San Francisco.”
The Times reported that Ms. Harris was concerned that prostitution not only exposes sex workers to drug, gun and sexual crimes, but also in her words “compromises the quality of life in a community.”