In response to an interview in which Kamala Harris came out in favor (sort of) of the decriminalization of sex work, one sex worker advocacy group is crying foul, pointing out that in her career as a prosecutor, Harris wasn’t exactly a friend of sex workers.
While Calico can see the appeal of calling out a politician for hypocrisy, and certainly agrees that Harris’ track record calls into question the sincerity of her support for decriminalization, there’s another component in this she thinks sex workers and their advocates need to consider: We’re talking about the world of politics, where shifts in cultural norms and what the general public finds acceptable often make hypocrites of elected officials. (Remember when Barrack Obama “evolved” on the subject of same sex marriage, for example?)
Is there an argument to be that when you’re pushing for something as controversial as the decriminalization of sex work, calling out hypocrisy and exacting revenge for past offenses should take a back seat to rounding up allies for the fight ahead? Calico thinks that’s an orientation and strategy worth considering. To find out why, read her latest post, “Yes, It’s Hypocrisy – It’s Also Politics”
by Calico Rudasill, Sssh.com Porn For Women and Couples Movies
The other day, I received a press release the Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project (ESPLERP) – a group that does great work and which I fully support – which made me shake my head just a little.
The headline of the press release was: “Honorary Sex Worker And Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Comes Out In Favor Of Decriminalization Of Sex Work-For Some.” In a subheadline, the release proclaimed: “Sex Workers Call Foul Given Her Track Record; Demand Apology And Reparations As Evidence Of Good Faith.”
“Given her history, we need to know what Kamala Harris really believes,” Maxine Doogan of ESPLERP said in the release. “At one point in the interview she sounds like an old school anti-prostitutist from the 80s – using epithets like ‘pimps’ and ‘johns.’ Then she says she is open to decriminalization of sex work. She needs to clarify her position – starting with an unequivocal statement that she supports the decriminalization of sex work for all consenting adults.”
Oh boy. I absolutely can see where Doogan is coming from in lashing out at Harris like this, but does putting out a press release like this really serve sex workers well in the political grand scheme of things?
Don’t Look a D.C Gift Horse in the Mouth
While I can understand why ESPLERP and the sex workers for whom they advocate would bristle at the hypocrisy of Kamala Harris suddenly claiming to be concerned with the wellbeing of sex workers and saying she’s in favor of decriminalizing some sex work, I’m not sure the shaming approach they’ve chosen in response to Harris is a productive one.
At a time when we’re finally seeing some momentum develop for decriminalization of sex work, do we really want to discourage politicians from showing support for such measures if they’ve been unsupportive of sex workers in the past?
Put another way, is damaging Harris’ political aspirations (Harris is one of the approximately 30 million Democrats who have declared they’re running for President in 2020) because we disapprove of her track record on sex work issues more important than gathering high-ranking political allies who say, publicly, that they favor the decriminalization of sex work?
Legislators in New York recently put forth a bill which would decriminalize sex work in the state. Let’s suppose one of those legislators has a history of arguing the opposite – that sex work is a serious crime worthy of law enforcement’s efforts to curb. Should those of us who favor the decriminalization of sex work highlight that legislator’s hypocrisy on the subject, or should we set all that aside in favor of being able to count that person as a public ally of sex workers?
This is politics, people. Aimlessly throw a rock inside the Senate Chamber and you’re going to hit a hypocrite. That’s just how it is. If you deny yourself hypocrites as potential allies inside the Beltway, you’ll just find yourself with a lot fewer allies.
The Messages You Send are Received by Others, As Well
Speaking of sex worker-friendly legislation, out in California, State Senator Scott Wiener has introduced a bill under which sex workers would be assured they will not be arrested when they come forward to report serious crimes, whether they’re the victim or a witness to the crime.
Suppose for a minute one of Wiener’s colleagues is weighing whether to voice support for his bill, but in years past they’ve expressed disapproval of sex work, or even authored legislation which was actively bad for sex workers, but now that politician has changed her or his mind on the subject.
What is such a hypothetical legislator to make of a press release like the one from ESPLERP about Kamala Harris? Will it impact in a negative way their risk/reward assessment for supporting Wiener’s bill? It’s hard for me to see how it would impact it in a positive fashion.
Being Right Isn’t the Point
Again, given Harris’ past as a prosecutor, her support of FOSTA and her crusade against Backpage, I fully understand why Doogan and ESPLERP are dubious of her support for decriminalization of sex work. Hell, I can even understand why they wouldn’t want her as an ally.
But this is politics – and it’s politics surrounding a subject which is highly controversial, to boot. We’ve rarely had any office-holder willing to publicly express support for sex workers; can we afford to ostracize those who do, even if we doubt their sincerity?
It’s food for thought, anyway. After all, the old saying “politics makes strange bedfellows” exists for a reason.
Calico’s work has appeared under various pen names in adult industry trade journals and on several mainstream op-ed portals, including the Huffington Post.
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