Rep. Selene Colburn said that passing the bills will increase sex workers' safety.
Montpelier, VT – Vermont legislators are considering a bill that would decriminalize prostitution throughout the state. The bill, which was introduced by Representative Selene Colburn in January, seeks to create a panel that would provide recommendations to modernize the state’s prostitution laws, according to the Associated Press. It would also decriminalize prostitution altogether, although sex trafficking laws would remain in place. Proponents declared that passing the bill would increase sex workers’ safety by bringing the industry into the open. “Is there a reason that we need to criminalize adult consensual sex between people on any terms?” Colburn asked. “By driving sex work underground, we’re creating much more dangerous conditions for sex workers,” she told the VTDigger. “They should feel like they have the protection of police if they need it.” A second proposed bill would give immunity to sex workers who report crimes that they witnessed or were victims of while they were engaged in sex trafficking or prostitution, the Associated Press reported. “Right now, sex workers really feel that they cannot access police protection,” Colburn said. “There are tons of statistics about the violence, the high levels of violence, and sex assault that people who engage in sex work experience.” The Vermont State Police (VSP) has arrested just 16 people for solicitation or prostitution in the past four years, and 10 more were arrested by other agencies between 2017 and 2019, VTDigger reported. Colburn argued that investigators often charge sex workers with prohibited acts or drug charges instead of prostitution – a practice she hopes to end by passing the proposed bills. “There is a lot of good research and compelling advocates on this issue,” Colburn told the VT Digger. “Hopefully my colleagues will hear them and take it seriously.” A prostitution decriminalization bill has also been introduced in New York, garnering heavy praise from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has pushed for it to be passed, the Associated Press reported. New York City resident TS Candii, a transgender woman who used to work as a sex worker, said that the proposed legislation is a good start. “It’s a stepping stone to reclaiming back our identity, our voice,” Candii told the Associated Press. “This is a stepping stone to be able to walk outside and not have to worry about so much…profiling from the police.” Advocates claim that prostitution laws are mostly used to harass sex workers. The National Organization of women has expressed support for some aspects of decriminalizing prostitution, while the World Health Organization backs the proposed law change wholeheartedly. But opponents of the proposed law changes argue that decriminalization of prostitution would “open the floodgates for sex establishments” to set up shop, the Associated Press reported. “They’re framing it under decriminalization of ‘sex work’ but all it means is legalization of pimping, brothel owning and sex buying,” said Reverend Que English, founder of the Not on My Watch! group.