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What Sex Workers Want Kamala Harris to Know


On the issue of finding a safe place for sex workers, I’m a huge advocate. I always have been,” Vice President–elect Kamala Harris said in a February 2019 interview with The Root. But if you ask sex workers, they’ll give you a different story.

“I’m thrilled that we have a black woman vice president. I wish it was anyone else but Kamala Harris,” said Alex Andrews, cofounder of Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) and SWOP Behind Bars. Andrews and other objected to the “torture” Harris put sex workers through when she was district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California. “She helped the Oakland Police Department cover up a lot of the misdeeds that they were doing in regards to sex trafficking,” she added, referring to how Harris declined to intervene in an explosive case in which multiple police officers had sexual contact with underage sex worker Celeste Guap, whose attorney explicitly asked Harris’s office for help. “Kamala Harris didn’t do anything to those cops. She was an active participant in this young woman’s exploitation.” As DA, Harris also opposed the decriminalization of sex work in 2008, saying it would roll out “a welcome mat out for pimps and prostitutes to come on into San Francisco.”

Andrews is not the only sex-worker advocate to feel ambivalence. “I’m like, wow, this is the first black woman on a major party ticket,” said Zola Z. Bruce of the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project (SWP). “A lot of black cis women or gender-nonconforming people and trans women just don’t know that it’s possible for a black woman to sit in such a high position.” But Bruce adds that “there’s some challenges because historically, we know that she hasn’t been supportive of trans women in particular, and also not supportive of sex workers. I just feel like for us to see positive change in our communities, we need to see her also change.”

Much ink has already been spilled on Harris’s prosecutorial background. What is significant about the topic of sex work is how recently the vice president–elect’s actions contradicted her alleged views. During her tenure as AG, she led a campaign to shut down Backpage, a classified advertising website frequently used by sex workers, calling it “the world’s top online brothel” in 2016 and claiming that the site made “millions of dollars from trafficking.” While Backpage did make millions off of sex work ads, its “adult services” listings offered a safer and more transparent platform for sex workers and their clients to conduct consensual transactions than had historically been available. Harris’s grandiose mischaracterization led to a Senate investigation, and the shuttering of the site by the FBI in 2018.


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