Police review committee recommends Montpelier decriminalize prostitution

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A police review committee in Montpelier is recommending that City Council repeal city ordinances against prostitution and support a Vermont House bill that would repeal state laws against consensual sex work.

“In my opinion, prostitution is sort of like a warning sign that there is often some type of predatory dynamic or some type of traffic under the surface,” Berlin resident Seth Collins said. “It may not be in the specific incident.”

Among its other recommendations, the review committee recommends repealing Montpelier’s ordinances related to public alcohol consumption because they disproportionately harm the city’s homeless population. Its report also recommends that all Montpelier police officers wear body cameras and that the city set up a civilian police advisory committee to review misconduct allegations.

In a 46-page report, the committee said Montpelier should repeal ordinances that criminalize sex work and “deprioritize the investigation of consensual sex work.” Police should instead “prioritize human trafficking, coercion, and when force is at issue,” the committee recommended.

The committee also recommended the council support H268, which would grant limited immunity to people who, “in good faith and in a timely manner,” report a crime, such as trafficking, that arose from the person’s involvement in prostitution.

But Dr. Michael Shively of New Englanders Against Sexual Exploitation told the council members that he once interviewed 22 convicted sex traffickers about de-criminalizing prostitution.

“One hundred percent of convicted sex traffickers would prefer to operate in an environment where there are no prohibitions against prostitution,” Dr. Shively said. “So, I’d really want to ask you to consider whether giving sex traffickers the policy of their dreams is something you really want to do.”

One resident said the committee’s report may not be adequate to address the city’s challenges.

“This report — while it does have some useful insight and analysis, it falls far short of what we need right now,” Montpelier resident Steve Whitaker said.

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