Sen. Kamala Harris is formulating progressive initiatives for her 2020 presidential campaign. The California Democrat recently told The Root that she believes—under the right circumstances—that sex work should be decriminalized. In spite of her support of 2017’s SESTA (The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act), Harris thinks the act of selling sex shouldn’t be penalized if it’s consensual.
“When you’re talking about consenting adults, we should consider that we cannot criminalize consensual behavior as long as no one is being harmed,” Harris said. “But at the point where people are being harmed or exploited then I think we have to understand that is a different matter.”
The 54-year-old politician also revisited her time as a district attorney, where she championed the end of incarcerating women who participated in sex work as a means for survival. “Back when I was a D.A. I was advocating then that we have to stop arresting these prostitutes, and instead go after the johns and the pimps because we were criminalizing the women, but not the men who were associating with it and making money off it and profiting off it,” she added.
Still, other sex workers don’t feel supported by Harris’ politics. “Her progressive achievements and championing for the underprivileged are completely overshadowed by her hostile initiatives against sex workers,” CEO of online sex worker directory Sixla, Lee Jennings told The Daily Beast.
The backlash stemmed from the takedown of Backpage, a now-defunct webpage that reportedly advertised child trafficking and prostitution. SESTA and FOSTA made this possible, which left people in the sex work community having to seek other alternatives to find work. There’s also an online platform designed to challenge these laws.
“As soon as FOSTA/SESTA passed and as soon as Backpage went down, we were inundated by texts from would-be pimps saying, ‘Baby, you need me now,’” Caty Simon, an escort and editor also told The Daily Beast. “And for some people that became the best choice among many many horrible options.”
Harris maintains her position by saying she did it to protect the youth. “The people who were running Backpage basically thumbed their nose at us and kept doing it making money off of the sale of youth,” she explained. “And so I called for them to be shut down.”
The Democratic representative also discussed reparations for African Americans and her stance on the legalization of marijuana. Though she believes it should be legal, she thinks more research needs to be done on the matter.
Watch the full interview below.