DSW has updated our Presidential report card. We are only including candidates who have won delegates and/or are polling above 5%. DSW has updated their grades to reflect recent statements by candidates and their campaign staff.
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts)
Elizabeth Warren has not taken an official position on decriminalizing sex work. Still, she has explicitly indicated her willingness to listen to sex workers and study the issue with an open mind.
Warren publicly confronted her previous support for FOSTA/SESTA and is co-sponsoring The SAFE SEX Workers Study Act proposed by Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), one of the few voices who opposed FOSTA/SESTA when the bill was voted on in 2018. The SAFE SEX Workers Act will study the impact of the law on the health and safety of sex workers and communities. Senator Warren recognizes that FOSTA/SESTA may have unintended consequences. Evidence suggests that FOSTA/SESTA has only hindered anti-trafficking efforts, exposed sex workers to more exploitation and violence, and obstructed community efforts to conduct harm-reduction work within these vulnerable communities.
“There are, in my view, two competing problems here that we’re trying to deal with. The first one is I believe humans should have autonomy over their own bodies, and they get to make their own decisions. The other half is we just have to acknowledge the reality. The world of sex trade involves a lot of trafficking of people who do not have autonomy of their bodies.”
—Buzzfeed News, May 30, 2019
“What I hope we’re trying to look for is not the question about sex — sex is good — but the question of exploitation, and how fine the line that runs between those who have been taken advantage of, who are being trafficked, who are being abused, and those who are not.”
—Buzzfeed News, May 30, 2019
“I’ll also push for landmark new anti-discrimination legislation to protect workers from harassment. And I am open to decriminalizing sex work. Sex workers, like all workers, deserve autonomy and are particularly vulnerable to physical and financial abuse. 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, October 10, 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 FOSTA/SESTA; however, he is co-sponsoring The SAFE SEX Workers Study Act, which would study the impact of FOSTA/SESTA on the health and safety of sex workers. Like Warren, Sanders has exhibited a willingness to consider the consequences of a well-intentioned but effectually harmful bill. Sanders has demonstrated a desire to listen to sex workers and understand their concerns. There have been some factual inaccuracies in Senator Sanders’ public statements, about which DSW would be happy to educate his campaign.
“The best answer I can give is talk to people who know the most about it, and try to you know, and try to come up with the best decision that I can, that’s the best answer I can give you.”
—Senator Sanders on CNN, July 6, 2019
“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.”
*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 FOSTA/SESTA, expressing support for Representative Ro Khanna’s SAFE SEX Worker Act. His rhetoric suggests that he is listening to sex workers. We applaud Mayor Buttigieg’s prioritization of harm-reduction and his appeal to compassion and humility in formulating policy. We hope that he will come out in support of full decriminalization soon. We also note a lack of recognition of transgender/non-conforming (TGNC) specific concerns in Mayor Pete’s policy platform. Discrimination against TGNC individuals, particularly trans women of color, in other labor sectors, make folks more likely to become sex workers and more vulnerable to abuse while working. To be fully inclusive of affected communities in the formulation of policy, this violence must be acknowledged and addressed.
“I think the time has come for more of a religious left to emerge in our country … that lets people know, uh, that they’re not the, that they’re not alone when, when they look at faith and think that it teaches us to reach out to others, to humble ourselves, to take care of the immigrant and the prisoner, and, frankly, the sex worker right — literally! Jesus spends his time with sex workers, among others, lepers. And here we have this totally warped idea of what Christianity oughta be like uh when it comes into the public sphere, which is mostly about exclusion.”
—Pete Buttigieg on The Rachel Maddow Show, April 15, 2019
“I certainly think we need to revisit the current legal framework and look at FOSTA and SESTA laws that were … set up with the best of intention about dealing with sex trafficking but may have actually endangered some people unintentionally,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an easy conversation, but it’s time for us to have mature conversations [about it].”
—Pete Buttigieg in Out magazine, October 11, 2019
“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. Though appealing in theory, in reality, the suppression model does not protect sex workers. 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. Senator Klobuchar also co-sponsored FOSTA/SESTA, an incredibly harmful law for the safety and health of sex workers when conducting their business. Senator Klobuchar’s campaign spoke to DSW and expressed an understanding of the issues at stake. The Senator has not yet shown any indication of revising her support for FOSTA/SESTA or her official position on sex work criminalization and has not endorsed the SAFE SEX Worker Act.
"I've been a leader on human trafficking. I was actually the lead on the bill that included my provision for safe harbor. What that meant, of course, was that if you have sex trafficking, either domestic or internationally, that you have to have a safe harbor for young people who are victims, so that they're not prosecuted themselves," Klobuchar said. (In response to a question from a TGNC rights activist about how she would respond to the negative impact of FOSTA/SESTA on his community)
—Senator Klobuchar to CNS News, October 11, 2019
“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 to CNS News, 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
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. The Obama administration implemented Operation Choke-Point in 2013, which was intended to discourage banks from working with payday lenders and gun retailers but also listed the pornography industry as “high risk.” The policy was scrapped in 2018, but while in effect, it shut down the bank accounts of many dancers. Repeated attempts to contact Biden’s 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
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.
“If your conversation during a presidential election is about some guy wearing a dress and whether he, she, or it can go to the locker room with their daughter, that’s not a winning formula for most people. They care about health care, they care about education, they care about safety, and all of those kinds of things. And some of these social issues — and not just the American government, the EU government does as well — we are focusing on a lot of things that have little relevance to people who are trying to live in a world that is changing because of technology and communications and things like that.”
“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