This primary season has been marked by repeated calls from the various candidates to decriminalize lots of things. Most of the hopefuls are on board with legalizing marijuana use, though only Mayor Pete decided to up the ante and call for decriminalizing heroin and every other drug on the streets. Most of them are up for decriminalizing “quality of life” crimes frequently associated with the homeless. But in the decriminalization game, only Tulsi Gabbard has decided to dip a toe into the realm of prostitution and other sex work. Reason got her on the record this weekend on this subject.
“If a consenting adult wants to engage in sex work, that is their right, and it should not be a crime,” Gabbard said in a statement this weekend to Reason. “All people should have autonomy over their bodies and their labor.”
Gabbard is the only one to get a good grade on a recent report card put out by the group Decriminalize Sex Work (DSW). “Gabbard supports the full decriminalization of sex work, which removes criminal and civil penalties from adults engaged in consensual acts of prostitution,” the group reports.
DSW gave Gabbard an A-. She didn’t get a perfect score because she voted for FOSTA, which made hosting content that facilitates prostitution a federal crime.
This is a subject that’s seen a noticeable shift in public support over the years, though it still gets very little attention on the campaign trail for some reason. Recent polling shows broad support for decriminalizing both prostitution and the soliciting of same by prospective clients, though the idea is still more popular among Democrats than Republicans.
As regular readers likely know, this is another of those topics where my inner libertarian overtakes other, more conventional conservative leanings. I’ve long felt pretty much the same as Gabbard on this issue. I have no problem with people having personal or moral objections to prostitution, but it just doesn’t seem to fall under the category of things that the government should be regulating.
This, of course, assumes that the activity is fully consensual on the part of both parties and they are adults. Human trafficking and the sexual enslavement of children are very real problems and I still support harsh penalties for such crimes. But if an adult woman (because it’s almost always women) makes the choice to use her own body in that fashion to earn money, the government shouldn’t tell her how to manage her own affairs.
I understand that the issue isn’t entirely cut and dried. As many critics have pointed out, I have no doubt that many of the women engaging in “sex work” (since that’s apparently a phrase now) are not doing it because they want to. Poverty, drug addiction and other social woes likely force some women into prostitution so it’s perhaps fair to say that it’s not entirely “consensual” if it comes down to a choice between resorting to that or starving. But even in such cases, arresting the woman isn’t making the situation any better for them. Public assistance programs and other strategies to lift them out of poverty and/or addiction would be far preferable.
So this is one of those rare cases where I’ll give a thumbs up to one of the Democratic candidates, at least on this particular issue. Aside from this, Gabbard doesn’t have much going on that separates her from the rest of the field. (Well, unless you count being the only person currently suing Hillary Clinton.) Perhaps a public conversation on this subject might spur one of the moderators at the next debates to bring it up and get the rest of the candidates on the record.