But Council rethinking endorsing statewide legislation
By Guy Page
The Montpelier City Council Wednesday, July 20 gave unanimous preliminary approval for “second reading” of the proposed repeal of the city’s anti-prostitution ordinance.
The endorsement followed lengthy public testimony in which Montpelier residents and sex trafficking experts alike all recommended the Council not repeal the ordinance. The second and final public hearing will be held August 24 at City Hall on Main Street.
Aaron Clark of Montpelier kicked off the string of testimony – all of it in opposition – at the 59-minute mark on the YouTube video.
We’re making a value statement here,” Clark said of the people gathered in opposition. “Montpelier we don’t want consensual prostitution. We don’t want it. We don’t want what it brings in, which is sex trafficking and human trafficking.”
The next speaker was Diana Tierney, also of Montpelier. “I’m concerned about the youth and the relationship with drugs and people’s vulnerability.” She cited a media report about a 16-year-old boy who was involved in a male prostitution ring in Bellows Falls. “I am worried how we as a community are going to prevent vulnerable people from being caught up with others who might take advantage of them.”
Rebecca Savoia, of Williamstown, said: Ii’ve worked in counter-human trafficking and with people in the sex industry. I’ve seen the effects that it’s had in nations that have become a sex tourist destination, such as Bangkok [Thailand]. If we look at statistics, there’s so much crime and violence that’s associated with that and I know the idea is to get protection for them. But even PTSD studies show that PTSD levels with people that work in the sex industry is comparable to those of war veterans or people who have been tortured.” U.S. rape and abuse rates are far higher for prostitutes, she said.
Jenna Clark of Montpelier, a young mother, said the city council should instead adopt the state law banning prostitution. “My family desires this. Every other community member that I’ve spoken to in Montpelier, in Barre City, in Barre Town are very surprised that we’re even considering this. They also desire that we criminalize prostitution.”
Ashley Strobridge, Montpelier photographer and artist, worries the repeal would attract sex trafficking.
“The idea of Vermont and Montpelier becoming a sort of a beacon of bringing in sex trafficking, that just that’s scary to me,” Strobridge said.
Montpelier resident Michael Mannion was the last person to testify. “I’m hearing from their testimonies that decriminalizing prostitution is not a good idea for the individuals involved as prostitutes or for society in general. So I’m wondering if you can provide any evidence from people who may have testimonies that would support the idea that decriminalizing prostitution would be a good idea for society in general or for the prostitutes themselves.”
Although present to discuss a sidewalk problem, Montpelierite Maurice Martineau added his opposition to the repeal.
After testimony had concluded, city councilors then responded that the Police Review Commission has studied this issue thoroughly before recommending repeal.
The ordinances’s “mere existence could have a problem in negatively impacting health and safety of sex workers by criminalizing this act. It sort of undermines sex workers ability to seek justice for crimes against them, that could include rape or robbery. It could include like violence from a client. It has a chilling effect. If you treat people like criminals they’re much less likely to report exploitation of minors, to report instances of trafficking, because they may be afraid of being prosecuted and going to jail themselves. So by taking this out of the shadows I really believe it is a measure that could help health and safety.”
I do appreciate there’s conflicting information on both sides and data, and when that’s the case i generally turn to sources I trust and in this case that would be the ACLU and Human Rights Watch.”
Although the councilors all protested the notion that repeal would promote sex trafficking by third parties, there was no interest in revising the repeal language to strengthen its anti-trafficking message.
The current ordinance, subject to repeal, reads:
“PROSTITUTION. No female person shall be a prostitute, or shall ply the vocation of a prostitute, or shall subject her person to prostitution, in the city; and no male person shall associate with such female person for the purpose of prostitution.
“HOUSE OF PROSTITUTION. No person shall keep a house of prostitution, or suffer or permit prostitution in any building or other place, owned or occupied by him, or part thereof; or be an inmate of any house of prostitution or ill-fame, or in any manner contribute to the support or maintenance thereof; nor shall any person having control of any building or other place lease or rent the same, or part thereof, to any prostitute or other person to be kept or used, or knowingly suffer or permit the same or part thereof to be kept or used, as a house of ill-fame or for the purpose of prostitution.”
The Council Tuesday night heard a proposal developed by the city’s Police Review Commission, including:
- Montpelier City Council should support state legislation supporting consensual prostitution laws while retaining felony human trafficking laws. (No statewide prostitution laws were passed this year, although the Legislature did approve, and Gov. Scott signed, a repeal amendment in the Burlington City Charter.)
- Montpelier should repeal its prostitution ordinances, which criminalize housing for sex workers, the act of sex work, and a safe workplace for sex workers.
- MPD should continue to deprioritize the investigation of consensual sex work and instead prioritize human trafficking, coercion, and when force is at issue.
Montpelier residents or those with business or other interests in Montpelier who wish to express their views respectfully, or seek more information, may either attend the final public hearing, or contact city councilors directly. The city councilors’ names and email addresses as listed on the public City of Montpelier website are:
Donna Bate – firstname.lastname@example.org
Conor Casey – email@example.com
Lauren Hierl – firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack McCullough – email@example.com
Jennifer Morton – firstname.lastname@example.org
Cary Brown – no email address listed.
Their phone numbers are listed in the city directory.
Categories: Local government