Elizabeth Warren says she’s open to the decriminalization of sex work

"Sex workers, like all workers, deserve autonomy but they are particularly vulnerable to physical and financial abuse and hardship."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) addresses the Moral Action Congress of the Poor People's Campaign on Monday in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is weighing in on a burgeoning, if fringe, movement in progressive politics: The decriminalization of sex work.

And she’s not necessarily opposed to the idea.

Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel asked Warren’s presidential campaign about her position on the subject Wednesday, after the Massachusetts Democrat endorsed Tiffany Cabán, a candidate for district attorney in the New York City borough of Queens, whose platform includes ending the prosecution of sex work.

“I’m open to decriminalization,” Warren told Weigel in a statement. “Sex workers, like all workers, deserve autonomy but they are particularly vulnerable to physical and financial abuse and hardship.”


The national conversation around decriminalizing sex work has seen a shift over the past year in the wake of a new federal law passed last year, known as FOSTA-SESTA, that aimed to crack down on online human trafficking — but which opponents said could make sex workers less safe by forcing them to return to the streets to find clients.

Warren did vote for FOSTA-SESTA and has also introduced legislation in the past to combat the use of the financial system by human traffickers, which sex worker advocates similarly feared could hurt the already-vulnerable population’s ability to access banking services. She reiterated her concerns for the victims of trafficking Wednesday.


“We need to make sure we don’t undermine legal protections for the most vulnerable, including the millions of individuals who are victims of human trafficking each year,” the Bay State senator told Weigel.

While the vast majority of Democrats — not to mention Republicans — have not expressed support for decriminalization of sex work, Warren’s openness to the idea isn’t unprecedented in the 2020 presidential race.

Five fellow Democratic primary contenders — California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel — say they support the decriminalization to some extent, according to BuzzFeed (though Moulton says he still supports the prosecution of those who solicit prostitution).


“I do not believe that anybody who hurts another human being or profits off of their exploitation should be admonished or free of criminal prosecution,” Harris, a former prosecutor, told The Root in Februrary. “But when you are talking about consenting adults, I think that you know, yes, we should really consider that we can’t criminalize consensual behavior as long as no one is being harmed.”