By Maggie Kerrin
It has become very clear over the past many months that House Representative Selene Colburn and the Progressive-led Burlington City Council have a legal prostitution agenda they are forcing on Burlington and the rest of Vermont.
On March 1, 2022 Burlington City Voters were asked to vote yes or no to ballot item #5 (above). Although the item passed, it is highly unlikely that Burlington voters recognize the detrimental effect this will have on their community, our state, and our nation.
For months New Englanders Against Sexual Exploitation (NEASE) has brought to the Burlington City Council expert testimony from NEASE members, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), World Without Exploitation (WWE), and dozens of victim/survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution.
Prostitution is an extremely dangerous trade. Kidnapping, rape, beatings, robbery, shootings, stabbings, forced drug and alcohol addictions, and numerous other physical, psychological, and emotional abuses result from prostituting men, women, and children. Victims are often the most vulnerable in our society; those same vulnerable people that our local and state governments are duty bound to protect.
We have to question where this push to fully decriminalize sex work in Vermont came from. It, in fact, did not stem from Vermont or Vermonters. It has its roots in an organization called “Decriminalize Sex Work” and is based in Texas. The Vermont Secretary of State Lobbyist Photo Book (2021-2022) lists four lobbyists from the Necrason Group (Montpelier Based Firm) hired to support their efforts to decriminalize the sex trade. Decriminalize Sex Work is a national organization pursuing a state-by-state strategy to end the prohibition of consensual adult prostitution in the United States.
- A Public Question Committee Registration Statement (Elections Division/Office of the Secretary of State) was filed by David Mickenberg on January 28, 2022. The “Public Question” was listed as “Burlington Charter Change Question #5”
- A Campaign Finance Disclosure Statement filed on January 28, 2022 shows $0 dollars for that period and also $0 Campaign to Date.
- A Campaign Finance Disclosure Statement filed on February 18, 2022, shows that a Registrant going by the name of Campaign to Vote Yes on 5 for Equity, Safety, and Dignity shows $0 from previous campaign and $0 carried forward to current campaign. It also shows $11, 689.15 in their summary of expenditures to influence the Burlington City Charter vote.
- The most recent Campaign Finance Disclosure Statement filed on March 4, 2022 shows $0 from previous campaign, $0 carried forward to the current campaign, and an additional amount of expenditures totaling $2,136.28.
- The Contact Name on all of these forms is listed as David Mickenberg and/or shows an email of firstname.lastname@example.org
- David Mickenberg is one of the four lobbyists hired by Decriminalize Sex Work through Necrason Group.
So the question remains, where did this money come from? Who is funding this push to decriminalize prostitution in Vermont? And is the safety of Vermont and Vermonters for sale?
I’m going to leave with you voices from trafficking and prostitution victim/survivors who have lived experience in the sex trade. They are the voices of Vermont Future.
Alisa Bernard, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, Thistle Farms: “Sex Trafficking exists because there is a demand for commercial sex. When that demand is normalized through policies, or in this case abolishing policies, it outpaces the supply. Loosening policy-specifically making pimps, sex buyers, and brother owners legal, simply creates easier onramps into the into the sex trade for those already marginalized among us. You can be sure it will not be wealthy upper middleclass white women flocking to the sex trade for chances to feel empowered. It will be women and girls of color, impoverished people, indigenous people, and trans women who enter the sex trade.” “Regardless if we were trafficked or entered the sex trade by ‘choice,’ the system of prostitution cause us long-term harm and as the victims of the very violence you are considering giving a free pass to, we hope you will hear our voices.”
Felicia Ingram, Assistant Director of Operations, Prevention Works Joint Task Force & Coalition: “I have spoken to survivors in Connecticut and across the United States and I can tell you from conversations I have had with survivors, prostitution is dangerous, the violence which occurs on behalf of buyers and traffickers is substantial.”
Bekah Charleston, Trafficking/Prostitution Survivor: “I was trafficked through the legal system of prostitution in Nevada. And I know exactly what it felt like being inside those dusty, dirty, disgusting hallways, having to meet men and turn as many customers as you can. Because the House took 50% off the top, and then my pimp took the other 50%. So it was never enough for either of them. I always had to show up at every single bell, and keep going, no matter what my body was telling me.” “Prostitution is about the power and control men have over women’s bodies. That women are a commodity to be bought and sold. And I think once you’ve lived a single day in the life, once you’ve had a single act of prostitution, you know that is not true. You tell yourself those lies, to get up every day, and look at yourself in the mirror and get ready for work again that night. But once you’re out of it, you can’t help but look and see the destruction, that it will lead waste to your life. That no little girl ever wakes up one day and says, “Mommy, I want to be a prostitute someday. That doesn’t happen. Those are the things that people are forced, manipulated, and coerced into doing.”
Stacy Reed, Prostitution and Trafficking Survivor, Peer Mentor Advocate, RIA House: “I was turned out when I was 14 years old. Every time I tried to run away, there were no resources for me. Not a day that I’ve ever spent in the life of prostitution was okay for me.”
Mary Speta, Chief Impact Officer, Amirah, Inc: “Amirah, Inc. is a New England nonprofit providing exit and aftercare services to women who have survived sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. 61% of the women they have served in their long-term residential recovery program were trafficked in Vermont at some point during their exploitation. Amirah has learned through these women’s stories that the commercial sex trade is particularly active in Burlington, Montpelier, and Stowe, and much of the sex trade is directly connected to gang activity in Burlington.”
Tricia Grant, Sex Trafficking Survivor: “So if you’re considering legalizing prostitution, my message is, talk to survivors of trafficking. Talk to people who have walked through this. Talk to people who have experienced this firsthand. Not just people who are advocating for decriminalization.”
Audrey Morrissey, Prostitution and Trafficking Survivor, Associate Director, My Life, My Choice: “People say it’s the oldest profession. It’s actually the oldest oppression.”
There are so many thousands of other victim/survivors voices that go unheard. I ask you, please consider them today.
In the words of Governor Scott: “I don’t think that’s what Vermont needs at this point.” (Vermont Daily Chronicle – March 7, 2022).
The author, Vermont Chair of New Englanders Against Sexual Exploitation (NEASE) submitted the above op-ed as testimony to the Vermont House Government Operations Committee April 28, in opposition to H746, the Burlington City Charter Change legalizing prostitution. The bill passed the committee 8-3 and is headed for the House floor.
I am so happy I sent my smart and beautiful daughter out of Vermont to attend college. The legalization of prostitution is unacceptable and would put her at risk. We all know that young people participate in risky behavior for many reasons, to include peer pressure, and could be easily lured by predictors glamorizing prostitution, as a means of income. I have no hope for this radically liberal state.
How much for an “Around the World”? Are prices going to be affected by inflation?
Burlington is a sick community in decline. These so called “Progressives” are hastening the decline with there ideology. They will reap what they have sewn. Pity, in the 60s , and into the 70s it was a nice place to live.
Hoping there can be some investigative reporting soon on the Ishtar Group in Vermont. FYI
I think the oldest profession should be legalized but regulated in regard to health safeguards. Take a look at the Swiss model.It works there quite well. There is a need, when a person has no partner, or their partner can not, or will not, have sex. We are all sexual beings so legalize but control for health and safety issues and take the trade out of the pimps and trafficers and put it into the sex workers hands.My take and I’m to the right of Attila the Hun.
You changed my mind about legalized prostitution. I was against it until you pointed out that they would be using Swiss models!
Richard…I said they should look into the Swiss model (As a guide).
I certainly appreciate that you have needs, as do most people, but your failure to understand that this puts young girls at risk is appalling. Human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of young people is a real threat. I am sure there are many willing people out there wishing to participate, married and unmarried.
I’m sorry. But Burlington ‘Sex Workers’ will never resemble Swiss Models. Way to ugly.
I will not support even 1 business in Burlington if it’s majority cannot protect its value . I know this beautiful waterfront city can be revitalized and become the cool city it once was.Prostitution and safe crackhouses is not the solution .Burlington will become another Kensington Avenue.The towns
Around you support your economy by coming to Music ,Food , Healthy entertainment ,sports and ,Shopping . Fight for this Burlington your beauty is on the line .
…all the drooling Johns comment… geesus.
Tunbridge Fair anyone? Biggest cover for sex trafficking in Vermont.
Its not like it doesn’t exist already.
But the culture behind it that women should provide sex to eeny weenies who have to pay to have sex with another human being – want it legalized so they don’t run the risk of being exposed for the perverts they are.
And then the little… qui bono? Its NEVER a two-person operation. Qui bono? Qui bono? Qui bono?
Corruption is at the heart of sex trafficking, legal or illegal.
And the devaluing of the human body, and the loss of the Sacred in our lives, and its place.
You men who think this is okay… did you ever wonder why women don’t PAY TO HAVE SEX WITH YOU???
Apparently Burlington’s progressives are cheap to influence. I bet the going rate in Montpelier is substantially more. Once again, many politicians definitely DO NOT represent their constituents,
but prefer the lure of the illusion of power, notoriety and control.
When John Stewart Mill debated The Contagious Diseases Act during the 1860s, legislation targeting prostitutes and the military personnel they serviced – he disclosed ‘a fine political example of the law of unintended circumstances’.
Mill maintained that: “When power is given which may be easily abused, we ought always to presume that it will be abused, and although it is possible that great precautions will be taken at first, those precautions are likely to be relaxed in time. We ought not to give powers liable to very great abuse, and easily abused, and then presume that those powers will not be abused.”
This is the crux of the dichotomy between individual liberty and government control. If we assume, as a society, that the human condition is condemned to bad behavior, if not all of the time, then at least some of the time, should individuals ever be allowed to act of their own accord? And if we assume, as a society, that individuals should be allowed to act of their own accord, even if only some of the time, who defines the limitation and draws the line of demarcation, and determines when and where the line is drawn?
Question: “You would rather leave these women to die and rot under hedges than pass these Acts and save them?
Answer: “I do not think that a fair way of putting the question, because I think they could be just as well saved without these Acts.”
Article 9 of the Vermont Constitution addresses this debate head on when it states: “…nor are the people bound by any law but such as they have in like manner assented to, for their common good: and previous to any law being made to raise a tax, the purpose for which it is to be raised ought to appear evident to the Legislature to be of more service to community than the money would be if not collected.”
To date, our elected officials can be deemed to be nothing short of negligent in this regard. And, of course, the same must be said of those who elect them.
Walt Kelly’s comic strip, Pogo, provided a surprising, but effective, parody of Oliver Perry’s report to Major General William Henry Harrison after the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812:
“We have met the Enemy, and He is Us”.
Great article!! This issue is far more complicated than they would like everyone to think. This is not an issue of two consenting adults. This is sexual slavery in disguise.
Gabriel Syme, yes and even worse.