Government & Politics

Sex work decriminalization bill introduced

Selene Colburn
Rep. Selene Colburn, P-Burlington, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, is sponsoring a bill that would decriminalize sex work. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

A group of lawmakers has introduced a bill for the 2020 session that would decriminalize sex work in the state of Vermont. 

The bill, only four pages long, would simply repeal current sex work statutes prohibiting the act. Human trafficking and the sale of sex that is coerced in any form would still be illegal under the legislation, but it would decriminalize the sale of sex between two consenting adults. 

Rep. Selene Colburn, P-Burlington, said she introduced the bill primarily to protect sex workers from the risks inherent in the illicit profession. Research has shown that where sex work is criminalized, sex workers experience far higher rates of sexual and physical violence from their clients and abuse from law enforcement. 

By decriminalizing sex work, the act wouldn’t become a legal, regulated market, Colburn explained. Simply, sex work would not be illegal in the state, so charges could not be brought against a sex worker or the person paying for sex. This is a step Colburn wants to make because she doesn’t view sex work as public safety threat. 

“By driving sex work underground, we’re creating much more dangerous conditions for sex workers,” Colburn said. “They should feel like they have the protection of police if they need it.”

The bill is also being sponsored by Rep. Diana Gonzalez, P-Winooski; Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown; and Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D-Brattleboro. It will be heading to the House Judiciary Committee for review. 

Colburn said the bill will be considered in tandem with H.568, also newly introduced and sponsored by Colburn, that would give immunity to those who witnessed a crime while involved in sex work or human trafficking. This bill would also create a Sex Work Study Committee to further modernize the state’s sex work laws.

While conversations about decriminalizing sex work in the United States are picking up steam, only some states have introduced legislation considering the idea. 

If passed, Vermont would become the first state in the nation to decriminalize sex work. Nevada is the only state in the nation where a few counties have legalized sex work. 

Given this lack of precedent, Colburn said she’s unsure about how her colleagues will react to the legislation. 

“There is a lot of good research and compelling advocates on this issue,” Colburn said, “And hopefully my colleagues will hear them and take it seriously.”

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Grace Elletson

About Grace

Grace Elletson is VTDigger's government accountability reporter, covering politics, state agencies and the Legislature. She is part of the BOLD Women's Leadership Network and a recent graduate of Ithaca College, where she was editor in chief of the Ithacan. She previously interned for the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Christian Science Monitor and The Cape Cod Times, her hometown newspaper.


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