Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang recently suggested on Twitter that some decriminalization of sex work, also known as the Nordic/Swedish model, should be considered.
“We should consider decriminalizing sex work on the part of the seller — it would be helpful in combating human trafficking. Many sex workers are themselves victims,” Yang wrote on Monday.
The comment drew quite a bit of pushback from some users who suggested that partial decriminalization would not be as effective at protecting sex workers as full decriminalization.
In an op-ed for Reason, the publication’s associate editor, Elizabeth Nolan Brown, suggested that Yang’s approach is not the way to go. According to Brown, Yang’s proposal would still require law enforcement to target people paying for sex, which would ultimately mean “monitoring and conducting stings on sex workers.”
“Sex workers would still be unable to advertise openly, to band together for safer working conditions, or to screen clients in an efficient manner, among other things that could actually ‘be helpful in combating human trafficking’ and sexual violence.”
Brown highlighted the many sex workers that responded to Yang’s comment and noted that they all appeared to be in favor of decriminalizing not just the seller but the buyer as well. She also took to Twitter to address Yang’s comment and suggested he was implying that women shouldn’t be held to the same legal standards as men.
To mark the #IDEVASW2019, we prepared infographics on collateral damages of anti-trafficking measures on #sexwork-ers.
Prevention measures aim to reduce risk of human trafficking but how do they affect and used against sex workers? #idevaw2019 pic.twitter.com/npso9LoDUJ
— ICRSE (@sexworkeurope) December 17, 2019
In the comments to Yang’s proposal, some voiced their support for full legalization. Per Business Insider, some believe that legalization may have unintended negative consequences for sex workers, which makes decriminalization more viable. A European sex worker by the pseudonym Molly Smith pointed to the countries that have legalized prostitution and noted that sex workers often become held back by regulations. When such workers don’t comply with these regulations, they become criminals.
Smith suggested that legalization also “disproportionately excludes” marginalized sex workers — such as drug users or undocumented workers — and continues to give power to “unscrupulous managers.”
University of Rhode Island professor Donna Hughes defines legalization as requiring laws that deem when, where, and how sex work can occur.
“Decriminalization eliminates all laws and prohibits the state and law-enforcement officials from intervening in any prostitution-related activities or transactions, unless other laws apply,” Hughes continued.
Regardless, some social media users were supportive of Yang’s proposal, and even some who disagreed with his approach still praised his willingness to speak on the issue.
Yang has not been one to shy away from somewhat touchy issues. Recently, the 44-year-old serial entrepreneur revealed that he is open to legalizing magic mushrooms, which may be a useful alternative to medications for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.