By Flora Scott
If the Vermont Legislature allows Burlington to eliminate regulation of prostitution from its city charter, a statewide repeal of prostitution laws would open the door to legalized prostitution in Vermont’s largest city.
On December 13, the Burlington City Council approved to put a Charter change to repeal its language regulating prostitution and houses of ill fame and disorderly houses. The proposed change will go to the voters at the annual City Meeting in March. If approved then, it still needs an OK from the Legislature.
Decriminalization on the state level will happen if Burlington Rep. Selene Colburn (P), a member of the influential House Judiciary Committee, gets her way.
At the Dec. 13 city council meeting, Colburn stated her support in repealing what she calls the sexist and classist language in Burlington’s Charter. She said taking the language off the books in Burlington will change little in the legal landscape because of state laws, but it is a first step. And unfortunately, she said, the conversation in the state legislature is moving at a slow and deliberate pace. She supports full decriminalization.
One opponent of full decriminalization on both the state and local levels said prostitution – legal or not – is “the choice of the choiceless.” Maggie Kerrin, Vermont Chair of New Englanders Against Sexual Exploitation, testified Dec. 13 that “more attention is needed for support services, addressing mental health issues, assisting with skills to find better jobs and housing for those who want to exit.”
Prostitution industry exploits the vulnerable, Kerrin said: “In a world where so many homeless persons, sexual abuse victims, foster care children, immigrant and indigenous women, refugees, persons of color, learning disabled, and transgender persons already suffer from lives of political, social, and economic marginalization, it is a travesty of justice to decriminalize those who take pleasure in and literally profit from their sexual exploitation.…Further, to the extent that prostitution is ever truly a choice, and for most of the people it is not, it is a choice filled with inherent dangers.”