Sex work decriminalization bill introduced in Vermont

Published: 1/4/2020 10:50:13 PM
Modified: 1/4/2020 10:49:47 PM

MONTPELIER — A group of lawmakers has introduced a bill for the 2020 session that would decriminalize sex work in the state of Vermont.

The bill, only four pages long, would repeal current sex work statutes prohibiting the act. Human trafficking and the sale of sex that is coerced in any form would still be illegal under the legislation, but it would decriminalize the sale of sex between two consenting adults.

Rep. Selene Colburn, P-Burlington, said she introduced the bill primarily to protect sex workers from the risks inherent in the illicit profession. Research has shown that where sex work is criminalized, sex workers experience far higher rates of sexual and physical violence from their clients and abuse from law enforcement.

By decriminalizing sex work, the practice wouldn’t become a legal, regulated market, Colburn explained. Rather, sex work would not be illegal in the state, so charges could not be brought against a sex worker or the person paying for sex. Colburn said she wants to take this step because she doesn’t view sex work as public safety threat.

“By driving sex work underground, we’re creating much more dangerous conditions for sex workers,” Colburn said. “They should feel like they have the protection of police if they need it.”

The bill also is being sponsored by Rep. Diana Gonzalez, P-Winooski; Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown; and Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D-Brattleboro. It will head to the House Judiciary Committee for review.

Colburn said the bill will be considered in tandem with HB 568, also newly introduced and sponsored by Colburn, which would give immunity to those who witnessed a crime while involved in sex work or human trafficking. This bill would also create a Sex Work Study Committee tasked with modernizing the state’s sex work laws.

While conversations about decriminalizing sex work in the United States are picking up steam, only some states have introduced legislation considering the idea.

If passed, Vermont would become the first state in the nation to decriminalize sex work. Nevada is the only state in the nation with legalized sex work, limited to a few counties.

Given this lack of precedent, Colburn said she’s unsure about how her colleagues will react to the legislation.

“There is a lot of good research and compelling advocates on this issue,” Colburn said, “And hopefully my colleagues will hear them and take it seriously.”

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