Activists say that Sen. Kamala Harris’ stated support for decriminalizing sex work “rings false” given her history as a prosecutor and are seeking a meeting with the 2020 presidential contender to press her on the issue.
Ms. Harris signaled her support for decriminalizing the world’s oldest profession in an interview Tuesday, and activists on Wednesday sought to correct the record by arguing the former prosecutor is actually backing the “Nordic Model” — not actual decriminalization.
“The Nordic Model diverts resources from people who trade sex, including survivors of trafficking, to policing, raids, immigration detention and evictions. It fails to address the root causes of labor exploitation in the sex trades, which are poverty, LGBTQ discrimination and lack of access to affordable housing,” said Jessica Raven, executive director at The Audre Lorde Project and member of Decrim NY’s Steering Committee. “The Nordic Model perpetuates a false savior mentality that makes us feel good while actually failing to address why trafficking is happening and preventing it before it happens.”
Decrim NY is working with state lawmakers in New York on legislation to legalize prostitution, arguing the current approach does more harm than good.
“Decrim NY demands meeting with Sen. Harris so community members can share how criminalization impacts their human rights and safety,” the group said in a press release Wednesday. “Decrim NY also calls on all presidential candidates to support the full decriminalization of sex work to promote the safety, wellbeing, and health of all people in the sex trades.”
In an interview with The Root, Ms. Harris said, “We can’t criminalize consensual behavior as long as no one is being harmed.” She also talked about how she pushed as district attorney in San Francisco in 2004 to stop arresting prostitutes and criminalizing women, and to “instead go after the johns and pimps” making money off the industry.
Activists on Wednesday took issue with Ms. Harris’ comments and her record as a prosecutor in California.
Cecilia Gentili, a former sex worker, said, “It is not possible to police clients without policing people who trade sex.”
“The Nordic Model constantly policies, surveils and harasses people who trade sex for information about our clients,” Ms. Gentili said. “We are still raped by the police because they have power over us. There is more stigma, and we are afraid to report violence. The climate of fear amongst clients means they don’t want to do any kind of screening so we’re pushed even more into dark corners and unsafe labor practices.”
• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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