March 1, 2022
Burlington voters overwhelmingly chose to remove archaic and discriminatory language from their city charter. The current charter mandates that Burlington “restrain and suppress houses of ill fame and disorderly houses, and to punish common prostitutes and persons consorting therewith.” The question of whether to remove the language was presented to voters during their annual local election. Burlington residents showed their support for human dignity, equity, and safety by choosing to strike this outdated language from the charter. The referendum now heads to the statehouse to be ratified.
The charter change does not decriminalize sex work in Burlington, as Vermont State law still criminalizes commercial sex. But the referendum vote does signify that Burlington voters understand the important differences between consensual adult sex work and human trafficking and support equity, safety, and dignity for all. Consensual adult sex work is not inherently dangerous but criminalization and stigmatization leave individuals vulnerable to abuse and violence. Conversely, the decriminalization of consensual adult sex work protects the health and safety of communities by allowing sex workers greater access to resources and agency in their work. It also helps combat violence against sex workers by allowing them to report crimes committed against them and others without fear of arrest. When Rhode Island decriminalized consensual adult sex work between 2003 and 2009, incidences of female gonorrhea declined by 39% and sexual assault declined by 31%.
Stigma and discrimination cause tremendous harm to all people engaged in sex work, whether their form of work is legal or not, and whether they are working by choice, circumstance, or coercion. Laws that further stigma, shame, misogyny, and discrimination enable and amplify harm to an already vulnerable population.
“Removing this discriminatory language from the city charter is a critical and positive step for consensual adult sex workers and everyone who cares about their communities. It also shows that voters can separate consensual adult sex work from the grotesque crime of human trafficking,” said Henri Bynx, co-founder of The Ishtar Collective, Vermont’s only organization run by and for sex workers and survivors of exploitation or trafficking. “We are deeply touched and encouraged to no longer be further marginalized by punitive language in Burlington’s city charter,” they continued.
A broad coalition of supporters urged Burlington voters to stand up for equity, safety, and dignity by voting affirmatively on question #5 on Town Meeting Day 2022.
Representative Tiff Bluemle (Chittenden-6-5)
Representative Brian Cina (Chittenden-6-4)
Representative Selene Colburn (Chittenden-6-4)
Representative Robert Hooper (Chittenden-6-1)
Representative Curt McCormack (Chittenden-6-3)
Representative Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (Chittenden-6-2)
Representative Barbara Rachelson (Chittenden-6-6)
Representative Taylor Small (Chittenden-6-7)
Representative Gabrielle Stebbins (Chittenden-6-5)
Burlington City Council President Max Tracy (Ward 2)
Burlington City Councilor Perri Freeman (Central)
Burlington City Councilor Jack Hanson (East)
Burlington City Councilor Zoraya Hightower (Ward 1)
Burlington City Councilor Joe Magee (Ward 3)
Burlington City Councilor Jane Stromberg (Ward 8)
The Ishtar Collective
National Harm Reduction Coalition
Out in the Open
Pride Center of Vermont