In two separate exchanges during a town hall in Las Vegas on Saturday, Sen. Bernie Sanders was asked how he would distinguish between sex work and sex trafficking, an issue of particular relevance to people here. But the Vermont senator could not give a clear answer.
The first question came from a woman who said she had been a supporter of Sanders from the beginning, but wanted to know how he would proceed without conflating the two terms, and what he would do about the House and Senate bills, together known as FOSTA-SESTA, that were designed to reduce sex trafficking, but have in turn made it harder for sex workers to stay on the job.
“We’re going to take a hard look at it, but we’re not going to give you a definitive answer now,” Sanders said in response.
While making clear that he did not want an increase in sex trafficking, Sanders added, “It’s a complicated issue, but there are two sides to it, and I promise you we will take a hard look at it.”
Later in the event, another person forced Sanders to address the fact that he did not give a direct answer when asked how he would handle the issue the first time.
“One of the questions that was just asked you deferred from,” the man in the audience said. “This is a state that has a lot of sex work and we need you to lead, and we need everyone in this room to think about how we use these terms because being able to say sex trafficking and combine that with sex work is immoral.”
Sanders interrupted the man and said, “I’m not saying that. I’m not saying that it’s the same.”
“What I am saying is there are sometimes, everyone wants me to give a profound answer to every question that comes up. I can’t. Alright? I wish I could,” Sanders added.
Sanders was again clear about what he didn’t want.
“I don’t want sex trafficking. Nobody wants 13-year-old girls to be locked up and become, you know, forced sex workers. Nobody wants that.”
The man in the audience continued to persist, but Sanders remained firm that he was not going to deviate from his answer.
“The best answer I can give is talk to people who know the most about it, and try to you know, and try to come up with best decision that I can, that’s the best answer I can give you,” Sanders said, ending the exchange and moving on to the next audience question.