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. 

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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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Louis Meyers

Does this legislation mean that female (and male) prostitutes will be able to stand on Church Street in Burlington openly trolling all day and night for their customers? Or perhaps put advertisements in their windows? That will be quite the scene, and will attract certain types of visitors to the Queen City which may bring other sorts of unwanted criminal behavior with them.

Scott Beck

This could lead to the most excitement Vermont has seen in quite some time.

Larry Jensen

Now that might get people to move to Vermont.

Eddie Anders

I never could understand why activity between consenting adults can possibly be a crime.

Chris Copley

I’m so glad our “progressive” legislators are doing such important work bringing up this “huge “issue so they can waste more time
in meetings just babbling so they can hear their own voice instead of actually dealing with issues that most Vermonters need addressed.

luke lamone

Seems like a good, humane idea. What adults willingly do in private is not the state’s business. This bill would not permit open public solicitation or any form of sex trafficking. Just the opposite since if sex workers were permitted to advertise on internet sites, that would discourage illegal street walking by providing a safe, discrete place off the streets. Sex workers do not want to be forced to solicit on the street which is dangerous to their health and safety.

Jay Eshelman

And how long before for the inevitable State regulations are assigned, with their equally inevitable sex taxes.

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” Frédéric Bastiat

Mark Donka

I can’t wait for the “workers” to set up shop on the front lawn of the State Capital in Montpelier. Woodstock also has several empty store fronts that could be used. What are people thinking.

Martha H Molpus

Thank you, Selene Colburn, for working to protect the vulnerable.

Jon Poster

Grow TF up. Prostitution is going to happen whether or not this law passes. Making it safer for workers and more fair just makes sense. Criminalizing it wastes police/court resources and allows pimps and violent Johns to attack, rape, and steal wo fear of workers calling police for help.

Vermont is a grown up state and can handle this.

Kae Burdo

A step in the right direction. THANK YOU Colburn & co for being reasonable.

Rich Lachapelle

While such activity between consenting adults that does not harm others should never really be prohibited by government, the motivation to pass such legislation is suspect.
It is debatable whether decriminalization will actually result in “harm reduction” and whether a person renting their body would feel any more at ease about contacting law enforcement to settle a dispute. Prostitutes who are in our country illegally or otherwise involved in illegal activity will still bear reluctance to come forward and it should be realized those are fairly common scenarios. I think the real motivation is that some Vermont lawmakers just relish the chance to be interviewed on the Statehouse steps by an MSNBC crew and achieve national notoriety for their “progressive, forward thinking”. Virtue signaling is a powerful motivator among members of the majority party of the Vermont General Assembly.

Molly Hodgdon

This is wonderful. Sex work decriminalization is endorsed by Amnesty International, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, and countless other public health and humanitarian organizations around the world (not to mention criminologists) because it drastically reduces harm. There is no reason for sex work between consenting adults to be illegal other than old-fashioned prudishness. Clinging to antiquated ideas and sexual hangups should not take priority over saving vulnerable people from violence.

William Olenick

In Switzerland,sex work is legal,overseen by health officials and protected by laws, and the system works well.

I advise VT officials to study the Swiss system, and take it under consideration ,as a model for Vermont, that can also be a trial, for nationwide legislation.

The Swiss system also helps prevent organized criminals from trafficking and profiting from sex workers.

America’s puritan days are long gone, and sex is a human need, so why not common sense?

I’m rarely with the progressives, or dems, but on this issue, I agree.

Why outlaw the most basic human need?

It’s 2020…not 1600.

In all due respect.

Jay Eshelman

And what Vermont court will handle the inevitable concensual/contractual disputes? Perhaps an appointed committee of formerly elected State officials with experience in such matters. A couple of candidates come immediately to mind.

Karen McIlveen1

The same people advocate the sex industry might want to look at the human trafficking and enslavement of the young people who often look for quick easy fast cash when entry level jobs are not available for them. It’s easy for people to be “addicted” to easy cash. Hit the lever get the reward.
I think the argument that it’s going to happen regardless is up for debate. The vaping, tobacco, marijuana, gambling, drug, alcohol and other vice laws are on the forefront of VT legislators hit parade. These proposed laws “need to protect the children” from themselves and the evils of the human beings, but sex for money will never happen unless the politicians can tax it.

Miriam Fried

This is excellent ! Sex workers will still have to worry about abusive johns and the like but they will not have to worry about being harassed by police.

When activities are forced into black markets abuse often festers. This will make the job safer.

Jack Chuter

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING! The legislature is giving me fewer and fewer reasons to stay in VT. Have they even thought of, or do they recognize the ramifications of legalizing prostitution? An increase in sexually transmitted diseases, including aids. An increase in unwanted pregnancies. Every addict in the state soliciting from street corners to sustain their habit. VT age of consent is already 15 or 16, I can just see kids selling themselves to support any of their habits rather than work a part time job. And so on. Nothing can go right with this. The “representatives” that proposed this have to have their heads in a place where the sun doesn’t shine.

I have some other sarcastic ideas that they could implement, but after seeing this, I am afraid they just might do it.

Job Tate

Apropos…Nobody knows how to prostitute themselves better than politicians.

Youngbee Dale

This bill, if passes, will only increase sex trafficking of women and children. Studies in the past show that this has happened to many other countries, including, Switzerland ( before they change their law from legalization to criminalizing buying sex), Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands after legalizing buying and selling sex. Better policy model will be Nordic model, again, which criminalizes pimping/sex trafficking and purchasing sex.

jeff dardozzi

While they are at it, I would like to see the legalization of the direct purchase of one’s vote by the highest bidder. This way we can have a more honest democracy where citizens can start to get a piece of the action politicians have been getting free for years. Nothing like a transparent financial transaction between consenting adults. Voters need no longer feel used and abused by the politicians who claim to ‘represent’ them.

Laura Stone

I do wonder if the people of Vermont see what this is really about under the surface.
What is fueling this need to do this and what does the state see coming that they are preparing for?
More Prostitution? and what is that a sign of within a society?
I can tell you exactly what it’s a sign of- a state desperate for any revenue source it can get away with- is it any wonder why they fight you to improve education? why would they want smart voters with this kind of stuff they want to get done?
Under the guise of caring about these people? gimme a break.

I cannot possibly see how Vermont will continue to be a healthy state to raise a family in with what is going on and this, aside from the increasing moral depravity- which no good person, certainly people with plenty of money, want to be around. No Families, No Future.
Vermont is in a state of collapse and I fear few see this reality.

rae hue

The state has finally taken this first step because I am sure in their back pocket they have already figured out how to tax it…..I am sure the unions are also drooling at the possibilities…

Vaughn Hadley

Well, here we go again! another first in the nation feather to be added to the Vermont State Legislatures feather preening display. A law to protect sex workers(prostitutes). A new study committee will be required and surely a Vermont Department of Debauchery will be created with a whole new bureaucracy. I for one will sleep better tonight knowing that the Vermont State Legislature is so diligently working to represent the citizenry of Vermont.

Theodore A Hoppe

It will end up like recreational pot, it will be “legal” without anywhere to buy it.

Peggy Luhrs

Selene Coburn seems to be single-handedly bringing neoliberal antifeminism that pretends to be “new” feminism to the Vermont House. Now she wants to throw women under the bus by decriminalizing prostitution. The only thing that helps prostituted women and other people is the Nordic model which criminalizes demand and not those prostituted. Where prostitution has been legalized such as in Germany and Holland prostitution numbers have risen so has trafficking while the ages of those involved became younger. We don’t need legal pimps and brothels. This is bad law. Ten countries have adopted the Nordic model and that is where prostitution levels are dropping. Germany is a mess with legalization and is now looking at the Nordic model.


Good for Vermont.


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