sex work

Ayanna Pressley Just Called for Decriminalizing Sex Work

On Thursday, the congresswoman introduced a landmark criminal justice resolution that did not ignore sex workers' needs.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley speaking in Congress

On Thursday morning, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley introduced a resolution calling for an overhaul of the U.S. criminal justice system. The resolution, titled The People’s Justice Guarantee, includes proposals to combat mass incarceration by ending the death penalty, cash-bail system, and minimum sentences. Also tucked inside it was one other major proposal: a call to decriminalize sex work.

“For far too long, those closest to the pain have not been closest to the power, resulting in a racist, xenophobic, rogue, and fundamentally flawed criminal legal system,” Pressley said in a statement announcing the resolution. “Our resolution calls for a bold transformation of the status quo—devoted to dismantling injustices so that the system is smaller, safer, less punitive, and more humane.”


According to Pressley, the resolution is the result of working with more than 20 grassroots organizations and individuals negatively affected by the U.S. legal system. The first 11 pages outline the rampant discrimination behind incarceration in the U.S., where incarceration rates are the highest in the world.

The resolution also acknowledges the way sex work criminalization has targeted low-income communities, people of color, the disabled, and other marginalized groups. It directly calls on the federal government to address the “structural inequities that impede the safety, dignity, and wellbeing of all individuals, especially those most vulnerable to discrimination on the basis of race, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, and citizenship status.”

Last week, Pressley endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren for president. But neither Warren nor Sen. Bernie Sanders, widely considered the two most progressive presidential candidates, have fully endorsed the decriminalization of sex work. It was only this summer that the two agreed the issue should even be considered.

Pressley’s latest resolution appears to signify the congresswoman’s own subtle shift on the issue of sex work. Last year, Congress passed SESTA/FOSTA, a package of bills that shuttered websites used by sex workers, which advocates argued jeopardized sex workers’ safety and livelihood in the name of curbing sex trafficking. Though Pressley was not in Congress to vote on the bills at the time, her website stated as recently as last year that she supported “holding executives of websites that serve as marketing tools for traffickers criminally responsible.”

The resolution—which also calls for the decriminalization of marijuana, addiction, poverty, and migration—has been lauded by notable progressives like Queens DA candidate Tiffany Caban and progressive organizations like Justice Democrats. Two of Pressley’s fellow “Squad” members, Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also tweeted in support of her resolution Thursday morning.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Pressley supported the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act known as SESTA/FOSTA. She had not yet been elected to her seat when Congress voted on the bills in 2018 and took no explicit position on them.

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.