Burlington City Council advances charter change to decriminalize sex work

Burlington city councilors pass a charter change Monday night. The goal is to decriminalize sex work in the Queen City.
Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 6:24 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 14, 2021 at 12:04 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington City Council Monday night advanced a charter change to decriminalize sex work in the Queen City. If endorsed by the mayor, it would go before voters on Town Meeting Day.

Councilors say there are several benefits to removing language about sex work from the charter. One is that it gives them the ability to report crimes against them without incriminating themselves.

”We are not decriminalizing sex work here and in some ways I’m sad that’s not true, but it is a step in the right direction and it is getting us talking about this important thing that’s prominent in the community,” said Jane Stromberg, P-Ward 8.

But not everybody is happy to see sex work potentially decriminalized in Burlington.

“Prostitution is about the power and control men have over women’s bodies that women are a commodity to be bought and sold,” said Michelle Moran, a Burlington resident.

While some are concerned the change would make human trafficking easier, others -- including several sex workers speaking at Monday’s meeting -- say it gives people autonomy over their bodies.

“In criminalized context, sex workers are more vulnerable to rape, assault and murder by attackers who see sex workers as easy targets, who are stigmatized and are unlikely to receive help from the police,” said Abby German, a Burlington resident.

City attorney Daniel Richardson says taking the section of the charter regarding sex work out won’t make much of a difference. That’s because state laws surrounding sex work are still in place. Local law enforcement will still be enforcing those rules. The charter change will just take the council’s ability to regulate or criminalize it.

If the mayor approves the measure, it will go before voters on Town Meeting Day. It must also be approved by the Legislature.

As for a potential charter change on councilor compensation, Stromberg, who initially proposed it, says the version brought forward Monday night was rushed to meet the deadline for Town Meeting Day.

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