Democratic Candidates on Prostitution Policy
We will continue to update this page with more information as it becomes available. Scroll down for all of the 2020 Democratic candidates’ positions, or click on a candidate’s photo to jump down.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)
Tulsi Gabbard supports the full decriminalization of sex work, which removes criminal and civil penalties from adults engaged in consensual acts of prostitution. Full decriminalization is the human rights approach favored by Amnesty International, UN AIDS, Human Rights Campaign, and the World Health Organization. New Zealand decriminalized prostitution in 2003. Tulsi Gabbard did vote for FOSTA, a law which endangered the safety and health of sex workers.
“If a consenting adult wants to engage in sex work, that is their right, and it should not be a crime,” Gabbard said. “All people should have autonomy over their bodies and their labor.”
—Buzzfeed News, March 2019
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts)
Elizabeth Warren has not taken an official position on decriminalizing sex work, but she has explicitly indicated her willingness to listen to sex workers and study the issue with an open mind. Despite her vote for SESTA/FOSTA, her campaign is listening to sex workers. She is educating herself about this issue. For example, Warren is co-sponsoring The SAFE SEX Workers Study Act, which would study the impact of SESTA/FOSTA on the health and safety of sex workers.
“I’m open to decriminalization. Sex workers, like all workers, deserve autonomy but they are particularly vulnerable to physical and financial abuse and hardship. We need to make sure we don’t undermine legal protections for the most vulnerable, including the millions of individuals who are victims of human trafficking each year.”
—Senator Warren via Twitter, June 19, 2019
“As lawmakers, we are responsible for examining unintended consequences of all legislation, and that includes any impact SESTA-FOSTA may have had on the ability of sex workers to protect themselves from physical or financial abuse.”
—The Hill, December 17, 2019
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont)
Bernie Sanders has not taken a position on how or whether to police prostitution. Sanders did vote for SESTA/FOSTA; however, he is co-sponsoring The SAFE SEX Workers Study Act, which would study the impact of SESTA/FOSTA on the health and safety of sex workers.
“When you talk about, uh, people getting arrested, uh, for prostitution, I think one should keep into consideration that the, the people who use prostitutes, men who visit, uh, places of prostitution, or engage prostitutions (sic), they are equally guilty. But I think the issue of, uh, legalizing it* is something that certainly needs to be discussed.”
—Senator Sanders in an interview with NPR, May 2019
“Bernie believes that decriminalization is certainly something that should be considered. Other countries have done this and it has shown to make the lives of sex workers safer.”
—Sarah Ford, Deputy Communications Director of the Sanders Campaign, The Hill, June 2019
*Bernie Sanders has repeatedly used the word “legalize” to describe a range of policies his campaign is considering. Legalization creates a regulatory structure that often forces sex workers into licensed brothels. This model creates a two-tiered system where the majority of sex workers are still criminalized while a few brothel owners compete for regulatory capture. Nevada has had licensed brothels in rural counties since 1971. Even after 50 years of legalization, Nevada has the highest arrest rate per capita in the United States for prostitution. We do not believe that the Sanders campaign is advocating for licensed brothels.
Pete Buttigieg (D-Indiana)
Pete Buttigieg has not explicitly discussed decriminalizing sex work. He has publicly acknowledged the harmful impact of SESTA/FOSTA, and his rhetoric suggests that he is listening to sex workers. Butigieg has not committed to a policy position.
“I'm not ready to make policy news on this yet. … The reason FOSTA-SESTA moved so quickly is because [lawmakers thought] that by supporting the bill they were opposing the harms that come from sex trafficking. We now understand that this legislation harmed vulnerable people, but this needs to be part of a larger conversation about how we treat sex workers and all of the reasons why this society hesitates to embrace the idea of sex work. I don’t think all of those ideas are wrong, but we need to open up debate about these policies, which were well-intentioned but harmful in practice.”
—Out magazine, May 21, 2019
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota)
Amy Klobuchar appears to support the Suppression Model, sometimes referred to as the “Nordic,” “End Demand,” “Equality,” or “Entrapment” Model. This model criminalizes buying or facilitating sex work, but not selling it. When clients are criminalized, sex workers can no longer screen for safety. In countries where this policy has been implemented sex workers face eviction, police harassment, and aggressive public shaming. This model fails to support the safety and health of sex workers. Amy Klobuchar is a former prosecutor and does not support the full decriminalization of prostitution. However, her campaign has demonstrated a willingness to listen to sex workers. Amy Klobuchar co-sponsored SESTA/FOSTA.
“So I am not in favor of decriminalizing all of sex work. I’m concerned about the effect that’s gonna have on young women and violence against women, but I’d love to talk with you afterwards if you have a few minutes so we can talk it through, and let’s see how we can find common ground going forward.”
—Senator Klobuchar in CNSNews.com, October 11, 2019
“On average, girls first become victims of sex trafficking at 13 years old.”
—Senator Klobuchar in The Washington Post, June 11, 2015
Andrew Yang (D)
Andrew Yang recently endorsed the Suppression Model, erroneously claiming that criminalizing clients will reduce trafficking. Evidence consistently proves the opposite is true. The Suppression Model, sometimes referred to as the “Nordic,” “End Demand,” “Equality,” or “Entrapment” Model, criminalizes buying or facilitating sex work, but not selling. When clients are criminalized, sex workers are unable to differentiate between a potential client who fears arrest or a predator posing as a nervous client. In countries where this policy has been implemented sex workers experience an increase of police harassment and abuse. This model fails to support the safety and health of sex workers. Repeated attempts to contact Yang’s campaign went unanswered.
Michael Bloomberg (D-New York)
Michael Bloomberg supports the full criminalization of sex work. This model criminalizes buying, selling, and facilitating prostitution. This is the most common legal model across the United States. Vice raids, stings, and undercover operations where police officers engage in sexual activity with sex workers before arresting them —are all common under prohibition. These arrests are framed as an effort to combat human trafficking, but the FBI’s own data proves that 89% of law enforcement resources earmarked for “anti-trafficking” efforts went towards arresting consensual adults. Data from the New York Division of Justice Services (DCJS), showed that arrest rates for prostitution were 30% higher during Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor. Demographic data reveals that the spike in arrest rates almost exclusively targeted black New Yorkers.
“We’re just not going to have this woman in front of a class.”
—Mayor Bloomberg, on firing a school teacher who admitted to working as a sex worker in the past, The Guardian, October 2010
former Vice President Joe Biden (D-Delaware)
Joe Biden has not taken a clear position on decriminalizing consensual, adult sex work. There is nothing in Joe Biden’s history to suggest that he would support this policy. Repeated attempts to contact his campaign have been ignored.
“In your state, you’ve made that judgment and you have a mechanism by which to oversee what’s happening, and so I’m not suggesting I’m going to come and change the law in your state,” Biden said. “But there’s a whole range of things that matter: It matters whether or not how you got into the trade, whether you got pulled into the trade or whether you’re underage, et cetera, and whether or not you’re owned by a John who is taking your money, et cetera. There’s a whole range of things.”
—Joe Biden in The Nevada Independent, July 20, 2019
former U.S Rep. Tom Steyer (D-California)
Tom Steyer has not taken a clear position on the decriminalization of consensual, adult sex work. Tom Steyer has not included sex workers or their concerns in his campaign.