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Elizabeth Warren says she’s open to decriminalizing sex work

Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke at an event in the Heritage Commons at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H.
Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke at an event in the Heritage Commons at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H. (Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe)

On Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren endorsed a candidate for district attorney in the New York City borough of Queens — Tiffany Cabán — and weighed in on one of Cabán’s platform issues: ending the prosecution of sex work.

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

Activists and supporters say decriminalization would help protect sex workers and improve their work conditions.

In 2018, Warren voted to approve a federal law that aimed to crack down on online human trafficking. According to activists, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) have made sex work more dangerous because, in addition to taking down sites like backpage.com that advertised sex work, sites where sex workers communicated with one another to vet clients also were removed from the Internet.

“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,” Warren also told Weigel.

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In 2017, Warren introduced her End Banking For Human Traffickers Act, which she said at the time would “give financial institutions and regulators additional weapons to fight this terrible crime by helping them cut off traffickers’ access to the banking system.”

Activists argued that her bill would give those financial organizations incentives to cut off all customers who sell sex, including those who perform sex work of their own free will.

The Massachusetts senator is one of six Democratic primary candidates — Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, Representatives Seth Moulton and Tulsi Gabbard, and former Senator Mike Gravel — who say they support decriminalization to some extent, according to Buzzfeed.

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Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Abbi Matheson can be reached at abbi.matheson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AbbiMatheson