Home News and Features City News Prostitution Ordinance Repeal Hearing Held

Prostitution Ordinance Repeal Hearing Held

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City council members Dona Bate, left, Cary Brown, and Conor Casey speak out on the prostitution ordinance July 20. Screenshot from ORCA Media.
Montpelier’s City Council unanimously voted to hold a second public hearing on repealing an ordinance against prostitution and houses of prostitution. The key problem with the ordinance, according to several council members and the city manager, is that the language is not appropriate by overly focusing on women, and could lead to preventing sex workers from seeking legal protection if needed.

The ordinance states: “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.” It further states that nobody shall keep a house of prostitution or “be an inmate of any house of prostitution or ill-fame.”

This hearing — the first of two — led to participation by several locals and several out-of-state individuals. Most members of the public said they did not want Montpelier to legalize prostitution and sex work because it would attract criminal behavior to town.

Councilor Dona Bate said she believes the city council should strengthen human trafficking laws, but in this case, the law goes after mostly women.

Aaron Clark of Montpelier said he would like to see law enforcement enforce the laws that are already on the books concerning prostitution. Diana Kearney, also of Montpelier, said she was worried about the relationship between prostitution, drugs, and vulnerable people. “I am worried how we are going to prevent vulnerable people from getting caught up with others who may take advantage of them.”

John Mathew of Barre Town said he supports keeping the ordinance as it is because it sends the message that people don’t want prostitution in local towns — or any towns.

Rebecca Zipkin of Connecticut participated remotely and said repealing the ordinance could signal to the state legislature that the town supports legal prostitution in Vermont, and “You will see Vermont become a hub of the sex trade nationally.” Zipkin said she was a member of “World Without Exploitation.”

But most city councilors said at the very least, the language had to be changed since it was inappropriate. Councilor Jack McCollough said the city council needs to discuss the distinction between sex work and sex exploitation in order to weigh in when the legislative session comes up. Councilor Conor Casey said the existing ordinance is antiquated and that treating consensual sex workers as criminals leads to negative unintended consequences. For example, a sex worker may not report child sexual exploitation because they may be afraid they would themselves be sent to jail. Or, a sex worker would not be protected from crimes against themselves such as rape or robbery. Casey said he would support taking a step back to see what the legislature proposes. But regardless of what happens in the legislature, Casey said the current ordinance needs to be repealed. “We need to make a distinction between decriminalization and legalization,” Casey said.

McCullough emphasized that nothing the council does would legalize prostitution in Montpelier. He also said the most important thing city government can do is to focus on responding to and eradicating abuse, exploitation, and human trafficking. This priority aligns with the Montpelier Police Department.

Mayor Anne Watson, Bate, and McCullough took a moment to discuss Robert’s Rules of Order before McCullough made a motion to hold a second reading at the next city council meeting. It passed unanimously.

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