Vermont should help women escape prostitution, not legalize it, human trafficking official says

By Guy Page

 January 10, 2020 -Vermont’s senior human trafficking official strongly opposes a bill to legalize prostitution, she told the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

H569, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chair Maxine Grad (D-Moretown),  fellow committee member Selene Colburn (P-Burlington), Diana Gonzalez (P-Winooski), and Emilie Kornheiser (D-Brattleboro), was introduced into the House this week. The bill maintains penalties for coerced prostitution but legalizes supposedly uncoerced sex for sale. Judiciary lost no time scheduling testimony, inviting seven people to testify the day after the session reconvened.

Kara Krier, Director of Human Trafficking Victim Services, disputes that prostitution is  ‘consensual’ based on her six years of working with human trafficking victims in Vermont prisons.

“Most of the women in prostitution did not make a rational choice to enter prostitution. They did not sit down one day and decide that they wanted to be selling their bodies,” Krier told House Judiciary Wednesday, the second day of the 2020 session. 

Krier said she has met only one woman who said she ‘chose’ prostitution to pay the bills – “and she was a prior victim of sex trafficking.”

Krier said a major study by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women International supports the “no other choice” reality of prostitution in Vermont:

“She felt like she had no other options available to her. We hear very little about the role of the sex industry in creating a global sex market in the bodies of women and children. Instead, we hear much about making prostitution into a better job for women through regulation and/or legalization, through unions of “sex workers,” and through campaigns which provide condoms to women in prostitution but cannot provide them with alternatives to prostitution.” 

“We hear much about how to keep women in prostitution but very little about how to help women get out,” Krier said. “We in Vermont can do better.”

A companion bill, H568, provides some immunity for prostitutes cooperating with law enforcement, and sets up a “Sex Work Study Committee” to examine “modernizing” prostitution laws.  

In support of legalization, Rep. Colburn entered as testimony an academic study that finds that “Sex workers are at disproportionate risk of violence and sexual and emotional ill health, harms that have been linked to the criminalization of sex work….. It showed that in contexts of criminalization, the threat and enactment of police harrassment and arrest…discouraged sex workers from carrying condoms and exacerbated existing inequalities experienced by transgender, migrant, and drug-using sex workers.”

Further hearings are likely if the bill proceeds. Individuals who wish to submit verbal or written testimony before House Judiciary about H569 and/or H568 may email the committee assistant at mbailey@leg.state.vt.us