Anti-trafficking groups worry about Burlington sex work measure

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – Former prosecutors and victims of trafficking say a proposed measure to allow prostitution in Burlington would fuel an increase in human trafficking.

“This is fast becoming America’s brothel,” said Michael Shively of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, one of several advocacy groups considering speaking to city council on Monday night.

Rachel Foster, co-founder of World Without Exploitation, the country’s largest anti-trafficking coalition, says decriminalizing sex work could increase sex trafficking in Burlington and turn it into a sex tourism destination. “Allowing the demand for the sex trade to really seep into Burlington in a way that really increases the risk and harm for the most marginalized and vulnerable girls and women,” said Foster.

Nicole Bell is a prostitution survivor from Massachusetts and helps other survivors overcome their trauma. She stresses that prostitution is rarely consensual and that buyers and exploiters should be held accountable. “Is it really two consenting adults or is it someone in a position of power exploiting another person’s vulnerability,” she said.

Burlington City Councilor Perri Freeman, P-Central, argues decriminalizing sex work is the best way to end exploitation. “I’m glad there are high conversations with exploitation, as well as non-consensual sex or non-consensual sex, but the fight should be to decriminalize sex work if you support these things,” said Freeman. She says changing the charter would make sex work safer, healthier and provide more protection for people in the industry. “Decriminalizing sex work is ultimately much safer, more secure for communities in general and specifically for people who engage in sex work. When told about the list of opponents lining up to speak out against the measure, Freeman expressed surprise.

Former US Attorney General for Vermont Christina Nolan has pursued high-profile sex trafficking cases and said decriminalization would deprive law enforcement of the tools, including search warrants, needed to find out about human trafficking. “If they do not have the capacity to investigate prostitution, they will not be able to discover human trafficking and there will be victims in the shadows that we cannot save,” she said. declared.

Advocacy groups plan to address city council at Monday night’s meeting and ask them to adopt a fairness model instead, which would protect prostitutes but maintain legal restrictions on who buy. As for amending the charter, it would take time as it would also require the approval of Burlington voters and the legislature.

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