MacDonald: Hey, Burlington: Prostitution was “legal” in Rhode Island for 29 years – it did not go well

by Steve MacDonald, for Granite Grok

People who profit from prostitution are typically its boosters. They call it sex work, describe it as a right, and dress it up as a noble calling. That sounds great, but what legalized sex work actually looks like is slavery, trafficking, and sexual assault.

And we don’t have to look far to see the truth. 

From 1980 to 2009, prostitution in Rhode Island was decriminalized. Prostitution was not prohibited or regulated by law if it was performed indoors. The lack of laws or regulations created a unique and permissive legal, economic, and cultural environment for the growth of sex businesses. Although a few counties in Nevada have legalized prostitution, no other state or county has decriminalized prostitution in recent decades. During the twenty-nine-year period from 1980 to 2009, sexual exploitation and violence against women and girls were integrated into the economic development of Rhode IslandÕs urban areas. 

It might take you an hour to read the research paper, but it’s worth the time if the topic is of interest (a summary can be found here), and it should be. Last year the people of Burlington voted to “bar the city council from regulating sex work.” It’s not legal, but they are prohibited from enforcing any laws or imposing any regulatory or public health controls.

Steve MacDonald

Hands off is how I read it, and that’s very bad news for girls and women, which the Rhode Island study bears out.

From the summary.

  • Shapiro documented the increase in the number of Asian brothels from 1998 until 2009. She found that in 1998, there were two or three Asian spa-brothels. Eight years later, in 2006, there were ten to twelve. By the end of 2008, there were twenty-two. Then over just a five-month period from January 2009 until April 2009, ten new spa-brothels opened, bringing the total to thirty-one.
  • The burgeoning sex industry in Rhode Island and unregulated nature of indoor prostitution attracted predators who targeted women in the sex industry. The cases of attempted robberies and assaults against women engaged in prostitution increasingly alarmed law enforcement officials and the general public in Rhode Island.
  • Because Rhode Island had no law on indoor prostitution, local and state police had no authority to investigate prostitution. A letter to Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children stated, Under current Rhode Island law, commercial sex between adults inside a building is considered a private activity and is thus protected.

 The Burlington law does not prohibit State or Federal investigations, arrests, or prosecutions, so it is different from the RI issue, which the state legislature corrected in 2009 after nearly three decades of crime, human trafficking, sexual assault, and abuse.

In a separate Study, another female researcher investigated Legalized Prostitution in New Zealand, the Netherlands, and elsewhere with similar results. Women are trafficked, poorly housed and treated, and moved around from brotherly to brothel. But the second study looks into the politics as well as the groups that advocate for “sex workers.”

The names of organizations advocating legalized prostitution are another source of confusion. Sex industry apologists calculatedly appropriate the titles of human rights or public health organizations. Although their Human Trafficking names are similar, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW) promotes prostitution as sex work, while the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) works for the abolition of prostitution and other forms of discrimination against women. Other organizations that accept or promote prostitution as a reasonable job for poor women include the Dutch Foundation for Women (STV); Coordination for Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM/Cambodia); European Network for HIV/STD Prevention in Europe (EUROPAP); Transnational AIDS/STD Prevention among Migrant Prostitutes (TAMPEP; Netherlands, Italy, Ger-many, and Austria); CARE International; North American TaskForce on Prostitution; Anti-Slavery International; Human Rights Watch; Amnesty International (USA); Amnesty for Women, Hamburg; Rights of Entertainers in Asia to Combat Human Oppression and Unjust Treatment, Hong Kong (REACH OUT); Bangladesh Women’s Health Coalition; Medecins sans Frontieres; From Our Streets with Dignity (FROST’D), NewYork; Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), Los Angeles; Prostitution Alternatives Counseling and Education (PACE), Vancouver, Canada; Nueva Era en Salud, Panama.

United Nations organizations such as the WHO, UN/AIDS, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) have also supported the legalization of prostitution and have generally regarded prostitution as work (Lim,1998; South African Press Association, 2001).In 2001, Gilles Poumerol, WHO’s Southeast Asian advisor on sexually transmitted infections, promoted the decriminalization of prostitution in Asia (Deutsche Press-Agentur, 2001). Unfortunately, names cannot be trusted to tell the whole story.

These groups all have a vested interest in the byproduct of sex work, which makes them – for lack of a better term, pimps. In some cases the pimp is the state. 

Prostitution has been proposed as a development policy for newly industrializing and developing countries. Often, those promoting prostitution are sex industry businessmen and government officials. Sex businesses such as escort prostitution, mas-sage brothels, strip clubs, phone sex businesses, and Internet prostitution have been described by Lim (1998)as the sex sector of a state’s economy. In some countries, profits from the sex sector are included in estimates of its economic activity.

For example, in the Netherlands, the sex industry constitutes 5% of the GDP (Daley, 2001). Women in Dutch prostitution tell us that although legalization of prostitution was promoted as a way to improve their lives, they view it primarily as a way for the State to tax their earnings (Schippers, 2002). Often they do not think that their health has benefited or that they are offered more protection under legalized or decriminalized prostitution. 

In almost every case where prostitution was legalized as sex work, the girls were beaten, abused, raped, or otherwise harmed, while crime increased in the neighborhoods where sex work was practiced.

I’ve not looked, and perhaps it is too soon, but the sanctuary city of Burlington, in the sanctuary State of Vermont, is likely home to an increasing number of trafficked immigrant girls or will be. Organized crime and less organized gangs will be drawn to the income opportunities of unregulated sex work, and the women -some of who will live like slaves – will pay the price for what a bunch of dim-witted progressives thought was a liberty or privacy issue.

Steve MacDonald is a long-time New Hampshire resident, blogger, and a member of the Board of directors of The 603 Alliance. He is the Managing Editor and co-owner of, a former board member of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, and a past contributor to the Franklin Center for Public Policy.

Categories: Commentary

15 replies »

  1. Dear Mr.McDonald:
    MYODB. Seriously. As you sit there in the freest state in the country, slamming my state for trying to become more free. May you have an unpleasant encounter with a porcupine.
    In liberty –

    • Lol! How ’bout you MYODB – Mr. McDonald can state whatever opinion he likes as it’s termed “freedom of Speech”, Eddie, looks like your state has a long way to go in terms of freedom since you apparently aren’t aware of it. And why are you on a Vermont site – doesn’t seem that you practice what you preach.
      Secondly, as a woman myself, it is more than obvious & has long been proven through statistics, data compiled & investigations rendered by the DOJ/FBI, university-level research, etc. that any type of prostitution is harmful/injurious/exploitative & even sometimes deadly to women and their children.
      But looks like “Eddie” wants to be able to pay to play regardless, huh?
      Try morals. Who knows, they might someday save your life. Your afterlife.

    • Eddie Garcia, You are left fascist using insults and cliche’ to hide the issue.
      We can expect more trolls, Antifa, etc., in the near future.

    • Vermont is not the freest state in the nation. The state is run by progressives, activists and NGOs. Anyone who questions the prevailing identity of Social Justice is harassed, demoralized and/or threatened with bodily harm. Freedom of speech is almost non-existent, under the guise of community standards. I know many people who will not put up political signs for fear of being harassed or having their property damaged. Taxpayers are forced by the legislature to pay for gender affirming care of minors who come to the state who say their parents don’t support them. The state seizes custody of these children and puts them in state care to receive the necessary medical interventions to include hormone blockers and surgical procedures. The state will not return these minors to their parents. This is not freedom.

  2. A good friend of mine who is preparing to retire from sex work wrote a book. It’s like 12 bucks on Amazon. “Sexual Liberty” by Chase Tkach. I recommend it. Especially to people like the author of this piece who are clueless about the nonsense they blather.

  3. Both your post and Crazy Eddie’s appear highly credible and exceptionally well-researched. Sorry dude (and I’m bettin’ that despite your very conveniently anonymous handle, you are indeed a dude – with loose or non-existent morals) but the danger and the exploitation and the horrific demoralization and the associated crimes that go along with prostitution such as drug addictions & sex trafficking are VERY well-documented by dozens of preeminent sources (see above for starters). And there is no “liberty” involved and anyone can write & self-publish a book on any topic regardless of the level of utter fabrications & propaganda contained within. Prostitution will continue to be fought against tooth & nail. Get your kicks on your own – leave other human beings alone.

    • Both of those post appear to be submitted by the same person. Same Avatar picture and same time period. Seems Eddie was looking for some support and provided it to himself. If he/him, she/her or they/them think Vermont is on the road to freedom, with this government they all have a long wait until Vermont voters actually vote these overlords out of office. Eddie probably doesn’t even vote and is looking for a good time at someone else’s expense.

  4. Anyone who thinks decriminalizing drugs & hookers isn’t going to attract criminal elements & social decay is an idiot.

  5. I had no idea RI had done this. I wonder if this explains the fictional “Rhode Island Slut” magazine in Dumb & Dumber?

  6. Where is love, guess that got thrown out the window.

    Montpelier has no truth nor love for its citizens, only a zeal for money and control.

  7. Has anyone spent any real quality time in Rhode Island in the past five years or so – outside of the tourist traps and spanky coastline resorts? The smallest State in the Union is also known as the arm pit of Connecticut. New England as a whole is becoming a hole. Look to our leadership and give all the credit where credit is due! One day the cradle of the United States will rock and God willing, rock every despot back to the abyss from which they came! Carry on.

    • …The left destroys everything it touches, and it has taken a firm grip on most of New England over the last 50 years…a long, slow decline.