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Sex Work Is a Hot and Messy 2020 Political Issue

This week, New York legislators introduced bills to effectively decriminalize sex work. The topic has become a campaign issue in the 2020 presidential election.
A rally for decriminalization of sex work in Flushing, Queens, May 2019, in response to a police crackdown on local massage parlors. In June 2019 a group of legislators introduced bills that would effectively decriminalize sex work in New York state.
A rally for decriminalization of sex work in Flushing, Queens, May 2019, in response to a police crackdown on local massage parlors. In June 2019 a group of legislators introduced bills that would effectively decriminalize sex work in New York state.Amir Khafagy/CityLab

This week, legislators introduced a bill to the New York legislature that if passed, would make New York the only state to effectively decriminalize sex work, and would be the culmination of years of work by activists in New York’s sex trade industry. A recent police crackdown on the massage parlors in Flushing, Queens, helped push this issue to the political fore in New York, and it may do the same on the national stage. While sex work isn’t a popular topic for a presidential campaign (as an issue, it’s not sexy, it’s messy) it’s shaping up to be one for 2020.

When Kamala Harris said she thought sex work shouldn’t be criminalized in an interview with the Root and then doubled down on CNN, it was probably the most public, high-profile discussion of the topic in U.S. politics. These recent events have shone a spotlight on an issue that many in the industry and their supporters have been pushing for years.