First-term United States Senator Kamala Harris of California on Monday became the latest in what is shaping up to be a crowded field of Democratic candidates who hope to oppose Donald Trump in the 2020 election. But her candidacy faced immediate criticism and even opposition from one voting bloc that is only now discovering its own political clout: sex workers.
Despite her ratings as the second-most progressive member of the Senate, according to Progressive Punch, and one of the most anti-Trump senators—voting with Trump only 17 percent of the time, seventh-least in the Senate according to FiveThirtyEight.com—Harris as a California prosecutor and attorney general, according to LA Magazine, led prosecutions of Backpage, the classified ad site that served as an platform for sex workers to manage their own businesses.
As a senator, she was a strong advocate of the FOSTA/SESTA law that supposedly targets online “sex trafficking,” but which sex workers say, as AVN.com has reported, has damaged their livelihoods and personal safety.
Of course, Harris was not the only vote in favor of FOSTA/SESTA among the 2020 Democratic contenders. The bill passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate, and Harris’s fellow announced Democratic candidates Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard also voted for the “anti-sex trafficking” bill, as did prospective candidates Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke.
But due to her vocal opposition to Backpage, and her record as a prosecutor and law enforcement official—Harris was California attorney general before running for Senate—many sex workers have singled her out for opposition.
“I’m not a fan. That whole political ploy to get rid of Backpage was really detrimental to a lot of our lives, and a lot of working people are suffering now because of it,” said Akynos, executive director of the Black Sex Worker Collective, in an interwview with Motherboard.
Sex worker rights activist Kate D’Adamo told Motherboard that in her view, Harris’s record as prosecutor outweighs her history as an advocate for women’s issues.
“Regardless of the rest of the stuff she talks about, it is really bad,” D’Adamo said. “In terms of sex work, in terms of Backpage, I see it as using this issue and the collateral damage it’s caused to score points. I think it was a very calculated decision, and I think it was a very political decision that did not weigh the cost it would have to communities.”
According to a Daily Beast report, Harris as far back as 2008 when she was San Francisco district attorney opposed a proposal to legalize sex work in California, and also opposed a lawsuit brought by activists challenging the state’s laws against prostitution.
“It should be a big concern to American women that you have politicians like Kamala who want to champion women’s right to choose when it comes to abortion, but they don’t want to uphold women’s sovereignty to access their own commercial commerce,” said San Francisco activist Maxine Doogan, who championed that lawsuit.
But though Harris appears to be sex workers’ least-favorite Democrat, she still appears preferable to the alternative.
“If she is the person that’s up against the bastard that we have now (i.e. Trump), I would choose her,” Akynos told Motherboard.
Photo By Office of the Attorney General of California / Wikimedia Commons Public Domain