LOS ANGELES—During his 36-year career in the United States Senate, prior to becoming Vice President under President Barack Obama, perhaps Joe Biden’s proudest achievement was the 1993 Violence Against Women Act, a law designed specifically to “combat violence and crimes against women on the streets and in homes.”
Biden, now president-elect, hopes to build on the 1993 law when he ascends to the White House. He has created a new “Plan to End Violence Against Women,” which would provide new forms of support for women who have been, or potentially could become, subject to violence both domestically, and in society at large.
But Biden’s proposed plan contains no mention of one group that may be more susceptible to violence than any other — sex workers. Now, sex worker advocates say they want to see Biden address the concerns of sex workers directly.
According to a recent study by the New York based Urban Justice Center, 80 percent of street-based sex workers had been victims of violence or threats of violence while working. And 87 percent of those interviewed in the study were homeless, or in insecure housing situations.
“I’d like to see an acknowledgment that consensual sex workers are deserving of protection equal to that of anyone else, and that the government is ready and willing, and has means in place, to support that end,” adult industry lawyer Maxine Lynn said in a recent media interview. “All of this sounds like a good idea but so long as you’re operating from the faulty foundation of conflating consensual sex work with violence against women, all of this falls apart.”
“Centering expanding the safety net for survivors is exactly the right move. But in order to really understand how this bill is going to affect people, listen to sex workers, [who are] missing from the table,” Oldest Profession podcast host Kaitlin Bailey added. “That could shed a lot of light on what the implementation of the policy will actually look like in affected communities.”
The Biden plan says it will broaden that safety net by expanding access to housing aid for survivors, as well as strengthening protections against housing discrimination for women who are victims of violence. The plan also includes cash payments to survivors, and paid leave from their jobs as they recover from violence.
The plan also proposes to “confront online harassment, abuse, and stalking,” problems which often acutely affect sex workers on the internet. But the Biden plan contains no mention of problems faced by sex workers online, or in housing.
Biden has made few public comments regarding sex workers and their status, but his vice president-elect, Kamala Harris, has stated her support for decriminalization of sex work, though adding in one interview, “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.”
Photo By Michael Stokes / Wikimedia Commons