Kamala Harris has announced her decision to run for president, and we are all dismayed.
In a time of “anyone, surely anyone has to be better than the Red Hat in office”, that may come as a bit of a surprise. After all, Harris has been lauded as a “rising star” --the liberal demigod(dess) who could very well save us all.
But let us back up a little.
The Political Tides Are Sure As Hell Turning
For the last few years, our community has been in a state of prolonged traction –stuck in a rigid position of having to shape-shift, morph, be alert, and be ready to run at any moment. The Trump administration has made life not only infinitely more challenging for us, but extraordinarily dangerous.
We all (not just at Slixa, but collectively) know that people contain (complicated) multitudes. After all, Donald Trump has a history of hiring providers, yet legislation that has passed under his ruling hand (FOSTA/SESTA, primarily) threatens the lives and livelihoods of sex workers across the country--especially those who are the most vulnerable.
But this article isn’t about Trump; after all, we’re all well-versed in the daily duplicities and treacheries he enacts upon our most disempowered Americans (not to mention those abroad). Rather, this is a look at someone who has the opportunity to be a (s)hero in her own right, someone we could look to as intently as we looked to the swearing in of the 116th Congress (after all, she’s part of it!): the aforementioned Kamala Harris.
She isn’t entirely a snake in the grass-- Her political career is dotted with dizzying achievements, and the work she’s done to empower first-time drug offenders is extraordinary, and deeply felt in her original home office of Oakland, California. She routinely holds corporations accountable for environmental and human rights violations, and has been a resounding voice in response to climate change, economic equality, and the rights of poor and working class people.
The causes she has served, and continues to serve, are inarguably vital for the welfare of people whom are often overlooked by officials and politicians. So, why the disparity when it comes to the rights of sex workers? If a mainstay of Harris’s political career is to serve and protect those who most need it, where is she when it comes to our community?
Friend or Foe?
To this end, Harris has not only been negligent of sex workers, she’s also been an active antagonist. She is a proud proponent of FOSTA/SESTA; she advocated for the anti-trafficking bill publicly. Equating sex trafficking with sex work, she stated that “victims of sex trafficking should be protected and have the ability to seek justice. That’s why, from my earliest days as a prosecutor, I’ve led the fight against Backpage and other sex trafficking platforms. And I am proud to support the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which will make it possible for victims and state prosecutors to hold online sex traffickers accountable.” Read her full statement on SESTA here.
“As California Attorney general, Harris led a charge against the free classifieds website, Backpage, in spite of years of vocal resistance from sex workers. Just weeks before her election to senate, she filed charges against three Backpage staff members — a move the sex work activist group, the Erotic Service Providers Legal Education Research Project (ESPLERP), called a “political stunt.” Backpage’s adversaries believe that shuttering online advertising is a strike against sexual exploitation. But in practice, online advertising helps sex workers avoid dangers associated with meeting clients on the street by allowing them to screen clients and more safely negotiate encounters prior to meeting,” wrote Melissa Petro, at The Establishment.
FOSTA/SESTA Kills and Endangers Workers
The correlation between sex trafficking and sex work is not only problematic, it’s also deadly. Last April, Gimlet Media’s podcast Reply All did an episode entitled “No More Safe Harbor” about the projected fallout from SESTA that discussed a spike in projected murder rates, especially for trans workers of color and/or survival street workers, who often don’t have the resources to pay the higher prices to advertise elsewhere, or to advertise or screen at all.
In “This Bill Is Killing Us: 9 Sex Workers on Their Lives in the Wake of FOSTA”, one escort writes: “Because of this bill I’ve now been forced back to the one place I barely made it out of alive the first time….It’s forcing me to go back the streets, walking up and down trying to find clients. Now I not only have to deal with the police, but now I’m forced to deal with tricks that know this bill is in effect, and trust me, they are taking full advantage of it by being more aggressive. And unlike being in the safety of my room, I’m in their car, I don’t have the option to leave or kick them out. I’m literally stuck in their car until they are finished with whatever it is they want from me.”
“The effects this bill has had on my community are horrendous ― mothers not able to feed their kids, the lights getting shut off in lots of sex workers’ homes, a lot of people not knowing how they’re going to pay their rent or getting eviction notices because they can’t. Women now having to walk the streets just to get clients and being put in dangerous circumstances that they never had to deal with before. This bill is killing us. We can’t screen clients like we used to, which is what was keeping us safe,” states Lexi, 27, of Florida.
Even formerly trafficked workers are deeply concerned about the bill passing. Laura LeMoon wrote about the passing of FOSTA/SESTA: “FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act) are gross oversteps of government and intentional conflation of sex trafficking and sex work as a means to control the bodies of marginalized populations, including most notably low-income folks and those experiencing homelessness, People of Color, Queer and Trans sex workers and women. This is government backed paternalism.” She goes on to say, “What I and other survivors of trafficking need is to not be forced to live on the streets and die in poverty, desperation and agony because we are made completely invisible until it’s time for government to use our stories as a means to further criminalizing consensual adult sex work.”
Kamala Harris is Not the Woman For the Job
As Kamala Harris announces her decision to run for president, we must ask ourselves: to what standards do we hold our politicians, especially politicians who have made entire careers from the pretense of protecting the most vulnerable members of our country? Perhaps Harris’s proud endorsement of SESTA alone should be grounds for disqualification for running. After all, it’s terribly ironic that a rising star in left wing politics, who has touted support for marginalized people, would throw an entire, exceptionally marginalized demographic of citizens under the bus.
Furthermore, Kamala Harris has promoted herself as an ally of the LGBTQ community without considering the repercussions that her advocacy of this bill, specifically, would generate.
“One in eight trans people have relied on sex work as their income at some point in their life, per this 2015 National Center for Trans Equality survey, and that one in eight are disproportionately trans women of color. Sex workers don’t have to be a part of our acronym for us to care about them, but the fact is that a lot of us have engaged with sex work at some point in our lives. In this light, Harris’ record of hostility towards sex workers should be considered a record of hostility towards LGBTQ+ people writ large — something she should expect to address, should she decide to run for president in the coming weeks,” writes Harron Walker, for Out.com.
The prospect of a woman of color in the White House is undeniably exciting-- and goodness knows we need radical change to undo all of the havoc the last two years have wrecked on our human rights, environment, education, and a whole laundry list of programs affected by Trump’s administration (as we write this, the government is still partially shut down, with hundreds of thousands of workers still without pay as Trump throws an absolute temper tantrum about “border security”). So yes, anyone but him.
But we’d argue that the current political mess we’re in necessitates more discernment and caution when electing the next president – because with that position comes the massive challenge of not only cleaning up said mess, but also strong-arming institutional change that will make sure that the rights of our most marginalized communities remain entirely inalienable.
“You have to consider, for many this is our livelihood ― and it is being ripped away from us as if we are not even human beings and not worthy of equal protection. They want us out of sight, underground, dead or in the streets easy to arrest. That is precisely what this bill will produce,” Kendell, a 21 year old escort out of Los Angeles writes.
With Kamala Harris in office, and taking such a loud stance on FOSTA/SESTA, we can be assured that our safety is in the hands of someone who thinks of us as disposable.
Header image: Sen. Kamala Harris by Alex Brandon for Associated Press