LOS ANGELES—Former Vice President Joe Biden surpassed the 270-electoral vote threshold on Saturday, after four days of counting ballots in the 2020 presidential election, to become the apparent winner and President-elect of the United States. But while celebrations of Biden’s win broke out in cities across the country one group’s enthusiasm was more muted — sex workers.
According to a report by the site Jezebel, while most sex worker rights advocates generally supported Biden over incumbent Republican Donald Trump, the victory for the Democrat and his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, likely will not improve working conditions or life in general for sex workers.
“The hope is that politics will return to normal—and ‘normal’ for sex workers’ rights is not good,” Penelope Saunders — executive director the sex-worker advocacy group Best Practices Policy Project — told Jezebel. “We have to hold in our minds that [Biden’s victory] is not a victory for sex workers.”
But the Biden/Harris administration will at least be a better alternative for sex worker rights than the outgoing Trump, Kate D’Adamo, of the group Reframe Health and Justice, told the site.
“Under Biden, it is gonna be tough,” she said. “Under Trump, it’s going to be a lot harder for a lot of people.”
In 2018, Trump signed into law the FOSTA/SESTA bill, designed to curtail online sex trafficking, but which instead reportedly pushed some sex workers offline and underground. That bill had broad bipartisan support in Congress.
As a Senator, Harris voted in favor of FOSTA/SESTA.
During her own campaign for president, Harris — the former California state attorney general — appeared to soften her position on sex work decriminalization. While she said, in February of 2019, that she supported sex work decriminalization, she qualified her support by saying, “we have to understand, though, that it is not as simple as that. There’s an ecosystem around (sex work), that involves crimes that harm people. And for those issues, I do not believe that anybody who hurts another human being or profits off of their exploitation should be free of criminal prosecution.”
She also said that she supported what is often described as the “Nordic model” of decriminalization, in which receiving money for sex is not a crime but paying for it is.
Nonetheless, pointing to Harris’s policies as attorney general and San Francisco District Attorney, Saunders told Jezebel that “You couldn’t get a candidate with a worse record on sex work.” She noted Harris’s legal attacks on Backpage, and her opposition to San Francisco’s Proposition K. The 2008 ballot measure would have forced police to stop enforcing laws against sex work.
But as vice-president, Harris will not be setting policy for the administration. That is the responsibility of the projected incoming president, Biden, who has never clearly stated his position on sex work decriminalization. He failed to respond to a questionnaire last year sent by BuzzFeed to all of the then-candidates, asking for their positions on sex work.
In 2019, Biden was asked his views by The Nevada Independent, in the one state where sex work, although strictly regulated, is legal. In that interview, he suggested that he opposed decriminalization, but would not attempt to force Nevada to roll back its laws.
“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 told the site. “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.”
Photos by the White House / United States Senate / Wikimedia Commons Public Domain