Bernie Sanders Says He’s Open to Decriminalizing Sex Work

People chant as they march in support of sex workers, Sunday, June 2, 2019, in Las Vegas. People marched in support of decriminalizing sex work and against the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, among other issues. (AP Photo/John Locher)
AP Photo/John Locher

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign said decriminalizing sex work “should be considered” less than one day after fellow White House hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she’s open to the policy.

“Bernie believes that decriminalization is certainly something that should be considered,” Sarah Ford, Deputy Communications Director for Sanders, told VICE News on Thursday. “Other countries have done this and it has shown to make the lives of sex workers safer.”

Less than 24 hours prior, Warren said in an interview that she is “open to decriminalization” of sex work, stating such workers are “particularly vulnerable to physical and financial abuse.”

“We need to make sure that we don’t undermine legal protections for the most vulnerable, including the millions of individuals who are victims of human trafficking each year,” the Massachusetts Democrat told the Washington Post on Wednesday. She made the remarks when asked whether she agreed with the policy advocated by progressive Tiffany Cabán, a career public defender running for Queens District Attorney.

Decrim NY, a group that advocates policy around sex workers in New York State, praised Warren for warming to discrimination, telling VICE News that the 2020 candidate’s comments were encouraging.

Decrim NY’s steering committee member Jessica Raven said

I feel encouraged by Elizabeth Warren’s language affirming sex workers, and I hope that we’ll see this statement backed by a new approach. Specifically, I want to see her keep engaging in dialogue with people in the sex trade so she can better understand that sex workers and trafficking survivors are not two distinct communities—those most likely to be exploited or trafficked in the sex trade are people who are already working in the sex trade, and criminalization hurts all of us.

Warren sponsored legislation two years ago designed to “end banking for human traffickers” in an effort to deter individuals from sex work.

Earlier this years, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), another White House contender, came out in favor of a bill that would decriminalize prostitution.

“I think that we have to understand, though, that it is not as simple as that,” Harris told The Root in February. “There’s an ecosystem around that, that involves 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 free of criminal prosecution.

“But when you’re talking about consenting adults? Yes, we should really consider that we can’t criminalize consensual behavior as long as no one is being harmed,” added the California Democrat.


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