AOC, Sanders, Warren back legislation seen as 'first step' towards decriminalizing sex work

Prominent progressives are calling for additional scrutiny over anti-sex trafficking legislation by supporting a House bill which is seen by its sponsor as a potential first step to decriminalizing sex work.

The SAFE SEX Workers Study Act, sponsored by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., would study the effects of two anti-sex trafficking bills -- the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act [SESTA/FOSTA] -- that became law last year. Opponents say the new law makes consensual sex work more difficult. According to Khanna's office, the law has forced sex workers off of online platforms and into more dangerous situations.

"Sex workers have relied on such internet platforms to screen clients and negotiate boundaries for consensual, transactional sex services, including condom use and other harm reduction strategies," Khanna said in a press release on Tuesday,

"While SESTA/FOSTA was intended to curb online sex trafficking, by banning the 'promotion of prostitution,' a host of internet platforms relied on by sex workers have shut down," he added.

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Khanna's legislation has received support from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. -- all of whom have expressed openness to decriminalization. According to the release, Sanders is an original co-sponsor. The bill, introduced on Tuesday, also received backing from Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramilia Jayapal, D-Wa., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

While the release didn't specifically call for decriminalizing sex work, Khanna's office confirmed that the congressman saw the study as a "first step" towards decriminalization.

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A spokesperson for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who sponsored the original legislation, suggested the study would help facilitate illegal activity.

"We have no interest in doing a study on how to facilitate any further illegal activity," spokesperson Emmalee Kalmbach told Fox News.

Khanna's office claimed the study fulfilled a "critical element of Congress' oversight ability." "Commercial sex work is a reality in America and this study would simply direct HHS to study the impacts of SESTA/FOSTA on the thousands upon thousands of people in America who rely on sex work to make ends meet,” spokeswoman Julia Albertson said.

Portman defended his own legislation in a statement provided to Fox News.

“Passage of SESTA was an important milestone and hard-fought victory for the victims and survivors of online sex trafficking. In this century, in this country, no man, woman, or child should be subjected to sex trafficking," he said.

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"Thanks to the enactment [of] SESTA, prosecutors can now go after these online traffickers, victims of this abhorrent crime can now have their day in court, and websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking are being shut down and being held liable for their actions.”

Spokespersons for Sanders, Warren, and Ocasio-Cortez did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment.