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Dear Madam VP Elect: An Open Letter to Kamala Harris from a Sex Worker

Last Saturday morning I was laying in bed and checked the Huffington Post — 284 Biden and 214 Trump. I texted my best friend immediately, a sex worker and well versed politico, who responded;

“Yes! They’re calling Biden President Elect Biden on the news!”

I was ecstatic and somewhat in disbelief, because personally I was sure Trump’s dirty pool tactics would get him another four years in office.

Madam VP Elect, your win as a woman and especially as a woman of color is absolutely historical and worthy of excitement. But as a sex worker, it is a mixed bag for me.

Your history with our sex working communities has been ambivalent, at best, and a complete disaster at worst. This being what it is, sex workers have still done a lot of work to get you and President Elect Biden into the White House. Sex workers, those who are able, are typically deeply political people, because our identities are so maligned. So many current and former sex workers that I know really worked hard for the Biden/Harris campaign. We have done this despite the ways in which you and the policies you have promoted have impacted us.

You have never formally apologized for the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2018, which has rolled back Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 and essentially allowed for mass conflation between sex trafficking and sex work and prosecution of sex workers as sex traffickers. You have never apologized for leading the maligning of Backpage dot com, a venue that most sex workers, especially lower income sex workers and sex workers of color relied upon. You have never apologized for the mishandling of Celeste Guap’s case, a sex worker who was being raped, abused and exploited by over 50 cops within the Oakland Police Department. Ms. Guap’s case just sat on your desk, unaddressed, because the exploiters and traffickers in question were the police, and maybe you saw Celeste as bearing the fault for being a sex worker?

To be fair, it is not you alone who should shoulder the blame for these things. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries, and he voted yes on SESTA too. There were other politicians and legislators who supported SESTA, but you were a key player in the almost simultaneous shutdown of Backpage and the implementation of SESTA and FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2018). You are the only one who has been a consistent player AGAINST sex work and sex workers in the USA in ways no other singular political figure has consistently been.

We want to trust you; our lives would be infinitely easier if we could. But we need an apology, a mea culpa, something for the ways in which the closure of Backpage and the implementation of this now two year old legislation has effected us and continues to effect our communities. My life, for one, has been infinitely harder since the closure of Backpage and the passage of SESTA. I know so many people in the sex industry — most of them, who STILL — two plus years later- can’t get their heads above water. I fear for my life every day because of the caliber of clients that are out now — these exploiters and abusers. These policies you have been a leading figure in creating has promulgated so much more poverty and sex trafficking, and I don’t think that was your intent, but that IS what has happened. I have seen the increase in girls working the streets having to sell bareback anal for $20 because the only thing that remains are the most awful and predatory of leeches. The child abusers, the rapists, the pimps, the johns that look at us like we deserve an STD, we deserve to be raped, because we’re human garbage. We’re not smart, we’re not “upstanding” citizens, cause if we were, we would be doing something else, like be doctor’s or computer engineers. John’s will partake of our bodies while relegating them simultaneously to the trash. Our lives have become infinitely cheaper than they once were.

You can be both problematic and a watershed figure in modern and one day historical politics. Despite what we have been put through, I think most sex workers recognize the power of having a woman in such a high political office, and how important, positive and unprecedented this is. But the question is, if sex workers can still support you after everything, why can’t you admit to the negative impact of your political work on a highly stigmatized population? I think our sex working communities are owed AT LEAST that much.

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