• Decrim NY

Decrim NY calls on candidates to support full decriminalization and seeks meeting with Kamala Harris

For Immediate Release: Kamala Harris’s call for decrim rings false

Contact: Nina Luo 636-288-8279 or nina@vocal-ny.org Wednesday, February 27 @ 10:30 am

New York, NY -- After the heavily publicized launch of Decrim NY on Monday, in an interview with The Root on Tuesday, presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris answered the question “Do you think sex work should be decriminalized?” with “I think so, I do.” Subsequent headlines praised Harris’s “call for decriminalization.” But Sen. Harris’s call rings false. She supports the Nordic Model (in the interview, she describes her support for arresting “the johns” rather than “the prostitutes.”) The Nordic Model—which targets, arrests, and incarcerates clients of sex workers, as well as drivers, landlords, family members, partners, who provide services and care to sex workers, and sex workers collaborating to keep each other safe—is not “decriminalization.” It is criminalization, and it puts people who trade sex at increased risk of violence, economic instability, and labor exploitation.

In New York, Decrim NY is working with Senate Women’s Health Committee Chair Julia Salazar, Senate Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos and Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried to propose the most comprehensive state decriminalization legislation in the country.

“Decrim NY is very deliberately advocating for decriminalization that includes decriminalizing promoting and patronizing charges,” said Audacia Ray, Director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy at The New York City Anti-Violence Project. “Sexual assault and labor exploitation are and will remain illegal, and criminalizing any transactions between adults in the sex trades makes it harder to hold people who are violent accountable. When clients and workplaces are criminalized, survivors of trafficking are less likely to be able report violence and exploitation and make their way to safety.”

“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.”

Both UNAIDS and the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women criticize the Nordic Model for its human rights violations and failures to combat trafficking. GAATW writes, “Evidence has shown that ‘end demand for prostitution’ approaches don’t reduce trafficking, ignores trafficking into other sectors, tends to rely more on ideology rather than sound evidence, confuses trafficking with sex work, increases stigma against sex workers, and is more focused on punishing men who pay for sexual services, rather than protecting women’s rights.”

“It is not possible to police clients without policing people who trade sex,” said Cecilia Gentili, trans advocate, former sex worker, and member of Decrim NY’s Steering Committee. “The Nordic Model constantly polices, surveils and harasses people who trade sex for information about our clients. 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.”

A year-long study in France of 583 people trading sex found that after the Nordic Model passed in 2016, 63% of people trading sex have experienced a deterioration of their work conditions, including increased social isolation, 42% have experienced an increase in violence, and 38% workers have found it more difficult to negotiate the use of condoms. In Norway, the Nordic Model was used to justify the systematic evictions of 400+ people, primarily migrant women, from their homes, in a campaign called “Operation Homeless.”

In 2008, Harris advocated against a ballot initiative that would decriminalize sex work in San Francisco, saying “I think it’s completely ridiculous, just in case there’s any ambiguity about my position. It would put a welcome mat out for pimps and prostitutes to come on into San Francisco.” In 2015, as Attorney General, Harris filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit to legalize sex work in California, saying the sex trade “compromises the quality of life in a community.” In 2018, Sen. Kamala Harris co-sponsored SESTA-FOSTA, legislation that made people trading sex more vulnerable to trafficking. She has made a career off of prosecuting immigrant sex workers, trans sex workers, and other vulnerable communities trading sex.

“For a lifelong prosecutor who’s defended and actively advocated for the criminalization of sex work her entire career, Kamala’s support for the Nordic Model is no surprise.” Nina Luo, member of the Decrim NY Steering Committee, said. “It’s not about decriminalizing the sex trades and making sure people are safe in their work and have real ways to exit if they want to, it’s about political opportunism while still getting to do the dangerous moralizing on sex work that, quite literally, kills people in our country, people such as Yang Song.”

Decrim NY demands meeting with Sen. Harris so community members can share how criminalization impacts their human rights and safety. Decrim NY also calls on all presidential candidates to support the full decriminalization of sex work to promote the the safety, wellbeing, and health of all people in the sex trades.

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