Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof’s candidacy for Oregon governor has already raised more than $ 1 million in campaign contributions, more than half of which was from outside donors. to the state as fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and philanthropist Melinda Gates.
Corn The New York Times the columnist’s fame did not always translate into popularity among the subjects of his report.
Oregon sex workers say they fear what a governorship Kristof could mean for their safety and rights in the workplace.
“As governor, in a state where much of the economy is tied to adult entertainment, I fear he is trying to over-regulate or punish one of the existing companies and also prevent progress. , such as decriminalization, ”said Elle Stanger, co-chair of the Oregon sex worker committee. “So I’m afraid of more archaic, gender-negative attitudes and punitive measures against consensual workers, and therefore a waste of resources for those who really need them. “
Kristof’s previous tenure as a columnist has given skeptics and potential voters many published opinions to comb through. And among its most vocal critics are sex workers who say its policy prescriptions are outdated and perhaps harmful.
Their criticisms may resonate particularly in Oregon, where advocates plan to introduce a voting measure to decriminalize sex work as early as next year.
One of the main criticisms of Kristof’s reporting on the sex trade is that it links consensual adult sex work with human trafficking. Kristof acknowledged such criticism in a recent interview with WW, but said he disagreed.
“There are sex workers who are definitely hiring me, and there are others who are enthusiastic,” says Kristof. “Obviously, not all sex work is trafficking. Trafficking concerns coercion or children under the age of 18. There are clearly differences. It is clear that there is consensual sex work.
These topics are not new to Kristof. Since the early 2000s, he has covered some of the thorny and complex issues of the global sex trade, such as sex slavery in Cambodia, for which he has come under national review following charges according to which a human trafficking activist and a major Kristof source fabricated his background. Then, for much of the 2010s, the columnist focused on child sex trafficking on Backpage.com, a project inspired by an encounter with a trafficked victim called “Baby Face.”
“I write about this issue because I am haunted by the children I met who were practically enslaved right here in the United States in the 21st century,” Kristof wrote in 2017. “I write about Backpage for over five years, since I met a terrified 13-year-old Baby Face who was forced to work for a pimp in New York City.
The following year, in 2018, Congress passed a set of laws known as FOSTA-SESTA (Law Against Online Sex Trafficking and Law Against Online Sex Traffickers), which effectively shut down Backpage and similar sites. (Disclosure: WW was an advertising partner of Backpage.)
Then last year, Kristof turned to a new target: the online video platform Pornhub. Some observers have seen a familiar pattern.
“When Kristof turns his notebook towards women with stories of trauma, the resulting narratives more often than not lie somewhere between beneficent voyeurism and journalists’ malpractice,” Melissa Gira Grant of The New Republic wrote in a December 2020 post, “Nick Kristof and the Holy War on Pornhub”. (In a remarkable twist, one of Kristof’s first boosters for Governor is Win McCormick, the Portland publisher who owns The New Republic.)
Politically, the biggest divide between sex workers and Kristof is perhaps her advocacy for a legal approach to prostitution known as the Nordic Model. Kristof pointed out this division when WW Asked if he supports a 2021 Oregon House bill to decriminalize prostitution (Bill died in committee).
“The Nordic model in Northern Europe has been [used] to decriminalize the sale of sex, but not its purchase, ”says Kristof. “It usually doesn’t allow pimping in particular. And for me, the priority, legally and morally, must be to focus on preventing the trafficking and exploitation of children.
But some sex workers argue that the Nordic model, also known as the Swedish model and the final demand model, actually reduces the safety of sex workers and clients, and increases the risk of meeting bad actors.
In May, for example, Portland police arrested former Oregon House President Dave Hunt in an attempted prostitution. As a result, a Portland sex worker said WW that Hunt had been a client and stopped making appointments after his arrest, costing the worker a trustworthy client (“The Sting”, WW, 20 October 2021).
Savannah Sly, a Seattle-area sex worker and activist affiliated with the Oregon Sex Workers Committee, among other organizations, says the Nordic model seeks to reduce the number of clients seeking to pay for sex. The result, Sly says, is fewer clients in the client pool, and because “benign” clients are more easily frightened by the threat of arrest or public shame, the proportion of predatory clients increases.
“It sounds like a feminist and progressive proposition. But it’s prison feminism, ”Sly says of the Nordic model. “The global sex worker rights movement wants rights, not rescue. “
Sly says the Nordic model unilaterally treats all sex workers as victims who do not have the autonomy to choose to participate in the sex trade.
“Kristof, by supporting the Nordic model, is actually supporting mass incarceration, increased police surveillance and detention capabilities,” Sly said. “The public should really know that the sex trafficking hysteria – while well-intentioned in many ways – is just a continuation of the war on drugs under a different banner. And Kristof backs that up by supporting the Nordic model, whether he understands it or not. “
Stanger questions Kristof’s authority in the matter.
“He’s always been a spectator,” she says. “No one should listen to Nicholas Kristof on this. People should listen to the sex workers who really need to navigate these laws, and our clients. “
Sly says Kristof’s latest campaign against Pornhub may foreshadow his approach to governance.
“He’s on a porn crusade now,” she said. “He’s just very black and white about the issues of the sex trade. He feels this is inherently bad, which makes him a moral crusader. I don’t want a moral crusader to rule anything.
Kristof says he’s spent his career tackling “tough issues” – and many people he’s written about oppose his reporting.
But as he discussed another topic – whether Portland needs more cops – he expressed a philosophy that could explain where he and sex workers diverge.
“I think,” he replied, “that there has to be a greater effort to assert order and also standards.”