This “creep” was visible in UN negotiations earlier this year as well as the launch of the annual State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.
At the launch of the report in July, Secretary of State Antony Blinken broke with previous administrations and referred to prostitution as “sex work.” When speaking about trafficking victims, Blinken said “many are compelled into commercial sex work.”
In May, over the course of a six-week debate at the United Nations on an HIV/AIDs resolution the U.S. remained quiet over the inclusion of language to decriminalize prostitution—something many countries objected to.
The U.S. Mission to the UN in New York did not respond to requests for clarification from C-Fam on whether silence was to be considered support for decriminalization.
The Biden administration’s seeming support for sanitizing prostitution has garnered ire from a broad range of human rights advocates.
“The term ‘sex work’ is a euphemism for the sex trade and the system of prostitution,” reads a letter addressed to Congressional members from 207 advocates and organizations, including 77 survivor leaders from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“Coined in the 1970s by a movement with financial and political interests in promoting the sex trade, the term ‘sex work’ is designed to mainstream and normalize the harms of prostitution and erase its inextricable links to trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation. The term is used to advance the theory that prostitution is a job like any other, and a call for laws that legalize and decriminalize the sex trade, including acts of pimping, brothel owning, sex buying, and “sex tourism.”
The letter, sent to Democrat and Republican leaders on the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees, was an appeal to rein in Biden’s State Department’s apparent policy shift, which the two committees provide oversight for.
“The U.S. Government is clear in its opposition to prostitution, including pimping, pandering, or maintaining commercial sex establishments, stating that ‘it should not be regulated as a legitimate form of work for any human being.’”
The letter also expresses concern at a reference in the Trafficking report that refers to children as sex workers. “Under both U.S. federal and international law, any person under the age of 18 in the sex trade is by definition a sex trafficked child.”
The letter concludes by asking lawmakers “to ensure the term ‘sex work’ is never again used in oral and written statements, reports, and other official documentation.”
The Biden administrations move to decriminalize prostitution should not come as a complete surprise. Vice President Kamala Harris gave her support to legalize prostitution as a 2020 presidential contender.