Vt. bills would decriminalize sex work

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Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 5:03 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont lawmakers are working to repeal the state’s prostitution laws, decriminalizing adult sex work in the state. Proponents of two measures working through the Statehouse say benefits include increased access to public health and safety. But some anti-trafficking advocates argue the bills could do more harm than good.

Some Vermont lawmakers say that the way to keep sex workers safe is to decriminalize prostitution.

“Criminalization Makes sex workers vulnerable to violence and exploitation, and it makes it difficult for them to access things like health care, housing, and opportunities for employment outside of sex work,” said Sen. Rebecca White, D-Windsor County, the sponsor of Senate Bill 125. A companion bill, H. 372, is currently in the House Committee on Judiciary.

No one could point to any arrests in recent years for prostitution, but advocates say it’s not about how common the practice is. “We are treated as second-class citizens because of how we choose to support ourselves and how we choose to support our families. It is a health issue and a human rights issue. This is an issue of safety, it’s an issue of health,” said Henri June Bynx of Montpelier.

But opponents of the bills say they’re too sweeping when it comes to legalizing the entire sex industry and don’t address the real issues. “When we talk to sex trade survivors, they tell us that they need their records expunged so that they can exit the industry, so that they can access other jobs, housing, education. None of those provisions are in this bill. Instead, this bill looks like a gift to pimps, to buyers, exploiters, and to brothel owners. That is who’s going to benefit from this legislation,” said Yasmin Vafa with the Washington D.C.-based group Rights4Girls. She says legalizing sex work would only grow the commercial sexual exploitation of marginalized groups in Vermont “It will be a sex tourism destination. It’s not just going to be sex buyers from Vermont, but it’s going to be sex buyers from all across the country going in to take advantage of the new lax laws of Vermont. It’s exactly what we see in places like Nevada. It’s exactly what we see in places like Amsterdam.”

The measures are different from one approved in Burlington last year. There, the City Council approved a charter to remove language about sex work, thereby taking away the city’s ability to regulate or criminalize it.

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Montpelier City Council repeals sex work measures

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Burlington City Council advances charter change to decriminalize sex work