On Prostitution, Another Kamala Harris Reversal

Harris wants to decriminalize prostitution, previously called idea 'completely ridiculous'

Sen. Kamala Harris / Getty Images
February 27, 2019

When Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) came out on Tuesday in favor of decriminalizing prostitution, she failed to mention that she had opposed it her entire career.

Harris most publicly opposed the idea of decriminalizing the oldest profession in 2008, when she called a proposal to do so in San Francisco "completely ridiculous" and argued it "would put a welcome mat out for pimps and prostitutes." She rejected the notion that prostitution was a "victimless crime," the New York Times reported, and said it "compromises the quality of life in a community."

But in her Tuesday interview with The Root, she said she supports decriminalizing prostitution and explicitly said it was because it is often victimless.

"When you’re talking about consensual adults, I think that, yes, we should really consider that we can’t criminalize consensual behavior as long as no one is being harmed," Harris said.

The reversal from Harris, like her complete reversal on marijuana legalization, came after criticism from activists.

A month ago, just after she announced her campaign, it was reported that sex workers were rejecting Harris. She lost their trust last year when she backed legislation designed to fight online sex trafficking, but that sex workers said would "literally kill them." They said they used the outlawed websites to find customers, allowing them to move off the streets and away from pimps. The bill passed, was praised by Harris, and signed by President Trump.

"It should be a big concern to the American public that Kamala is voting with President Trump," said Maxine Doogan, a Bay Area activist who also fought Harris on the failed 2008 proposition. "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."

Another sex workers' rights activist, Kate D'Adamo, said she thought Harris's support for the bill was a political decision.

"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," D'Adamo said.

Doogan's group, the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational and Research Project, challenged California's solicitation law with a lawsuit in 2015 and was fought by none other than Harris, the state's then-attorney general.

Harris has worked during her presidential run to escape the reputation she earned as a California prosecutor, attempting to rebrand herself as a "progressive prosecutor."