Legalizing prostitution in Vermont would increase demand for young prostitutes

Isolation caused by pandemic already putting young girls at risk from predators

by Annisa Lamberton, M.A.

July 9, 2020 – Last week in a small town in southern New Hampshire, Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested after an extended investigation.  Maxwell has been named in court filings as the alleged madam, facilitating the sex-trafficking of girls as young as 14-years of age, for Jeffrey Epstein.

The Epstein case has brought attention to the fact that the U.S. is the No.1 consumer of child exploitation in the world.  

However, little known to most, but according to experts, the Covid-19 shutdowns have created a “tsunami” of child exploitation, and proposed Vermont legislation would progress the situation to a “perfect storm.” 

According to Tim Ballard CEO of Operation Underground Railroad with the mission to eradicate child sex trafficking worldwide, the reason for the “tsunami” during the quarantine is the disappearance of the social network of sports, extracurricular activities, and schools creating a means for protecting children.  Children are spending more time online, often unsupervised while families struggle to work and pay bills.  Predators know how to access children through online activity, such as games, and as Ballard learned through monitoring communication on the dark net, COVID-19 responses have created what pedophiles call a “harvest time.”

Ballard has worked in the CIA and Homeland Security focusing on criminal investigation of child sex trafficking. In a video interview published June 20, Ballard related the following findings:

  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that this March there were 2 million reports of crimes against children in the U.S., which is 2 times the number in April 2019.  The next month, in April 2020, 4 million crimes were reported, which is 4 times the harm reported in March of 2019. 
  • 1 in 5 children in this country will be sexually solicited by the time they turn 18. A UN study found the United States is the most common destination for trafficking victims 
  • Internationally, every 30 seconds, a child is stolen for sex, slave labor, or organ harvesting, and child exploitation is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. 

If the health management policies for COVID-19 have created a “tsunami” when separating children from the societal infrastructure and firewalls aiding their safety, children will suffer greater impacts by Vermont legislators considering prostitution legislation.

In February, H.568 was passed through a rollcall vote to create a “Sex Work Study Committee” for the purpose of making recommendations to the General Assembly regarding modernization of Vermont’s prostitution laws.  The stated powers and duties of the committee, in part, include examining “the advantages and disadvantages of criminalization, partial decriminalization, full decriminalization, and legalization and regulation.”  The Senate bill S.217, also to form a “Sex Work Study Committee,” has not yet progressed for a vote.

While many common sense Vermonters may view legalizing “sex work” during a time of COVID-19 as nonsensical, promotors hope to regulate for the health and safety of adults choosing “sex work” as employment. Opponents doubt the concept of a free “choice” to sell one’s body to strangers for money.

The wording of the House bill states coercion of sex workers is prohibited. Yet, according to Sonia Ossorio, Executive Director of Women’s Justice Now, “Prostitution is a system of oppression where racism and misogyny collide.” The system creating prostitution is inherently coercive of children, women, transgender women, and migrants.

Legalizing prostitution increases illegal prostitution and exploitation of children. For example, the European Parliament commissioned an investigation of countries, such as Austria, with legal prostitution. (National Legislation on Prostitution and the Trafficking in Women and Children: pp. 132) and found “the effect of regulation can be a massive increase in migrant prostitution and an indirect support to the spreading of the illegal market in the sex industry.”  

Tom Perez, Executive CEO and Founder of The EPIK Project, which works with buyers to decrease the demand for prostitution, explains the situation as follows:  “One in 5 men who have never purchased sex report they would consider it if the situation were favorable, such as legalization. Legalization would basically open up the market from a supply and demand standpoint.  There aren’t enough people to willingly step up to fill the supply.  Those looking to meet the demand will fill it by looking to the most vulnerable and the youngest, young girls and children are the easiest.”

When contacted for this article, Policy Counsel of Shared Hope International, Sarah Bendtsen, J.D., stated “homeless, runaway, and youth ‘aging out’ of foster care during the pandemic are the most vulnerable to resorting to trading sex in order to live. When users of child exploitation imagery are alone in homes with no pressure to adhere to social norms and… with unfettered access to exploitation imagery, the result is the ‘perfect storm’ for minors to be groomed, recruited, and exploited, and for existing predators and new offenders (e.g. consumers of child sexual abuse imagery) to target and exploit children.”

The month Jeffrey Epstein was arrested, Demand Abolition’s Founder and Chair Swanee Hunt published a July 2019 op-ed, in The Boston Globe. It is titled, “Don’t call victims of sex trafficking ‘young women.’”

During 22 trips Hunt took to Eastern and Central Europe while serving as US Ambassador to Austria, she learned about the impact of sex trafficking and its profitability over drugs, which can be sold only once.  “An officer of Interpol (the International Police) told me that organized crime sees that a trafficked girl can be sold over and over – she is a ‘reusable commodity.’”

As a Vermont “Sex Work Study Committee” may seek future testimony about modernizing laws and possibly legalizing prostitution, in part or in full, for those 18 and over, Vermonters should consider Hunt’s following evidence from a group “survivor” discussion in her home:

“Around my dinner table, a “survivor” (she calls herself) who was prostituted for years insisted that not once did a buyer ask her age. The other dozen women nodded a “Hell, yeah.’’

“And who is this girl who is prostituted? As a composite, she’s bought by 10 men a day, starting at age 14. Let’s give her one day off and a week’s vacation (none of which she actually receives). On her 18th birthday, she has been sexually assaulted over 12,000 times. She blows out the candles and suddenly she’s an adult? Ask any trauma psychologist about the life-long struggle this girl is facing.

“Drug addicted, intimidated, seeing no future, and up against an aggressive legal team, she makes a terrible witness.” 

When considering the response to COVID-19 and to “modernizing” Vermont laws, the Legislature must consider the welfare of vulnerable children as its paramount priority.

Ghislaine Maxwell – photo credit Wikipedia