Montpelier, VT (May 17, 2021) — Today Governor Phil Scott approved legislation that will provide limited criminal immunity to people who report a crime committed against them, or which they witnessed, while voluntarily involved in sex work or while a victim of human trafficking.
Sex workers and advocates for survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence testified in support of H.18, an act relating to sexual exploitation of children and limited immunity from liability for a person reporting a crime, commonly referred to as a “Good Samaritan Law.” The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Tom Burditt and Democratic Rep. Maxine Grad. The provision on limited criminal immunity was added to the bill as an amendment without controversy and with minimal debate.
“As insiders of the sex industry, we are often the first line of defense against trafficking. … We can spot signs of exploitation or coercion that are subtle and easy to miss, but we cannot report that or intervene safely in a criminalized or fear-based stigmatized environment,” noted J. Leigh Oshiro-Brantly, research and project manager at Decriminalize Sex Work.
“Passing this bill means that a pimp or an abuser could no longer threaten arrest to exploit a sex worker or survivor of trafficking, which is a common tactic of exploitation,” said Henri Bynx, co-founder and co-director of The Ishtar Collective, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization serving sex workers, survivors of violence, and trafficking. They continued saying, “It shows lawmakers care about us, as people. They are taking action to protect our safety by giving us equal protection under the law.”
H.18 is critical to protecting the human rights, health, and safety of all Vermonters. Kelly Arbor, Testing and Education Manager at Vermont CARES, says, “If I’m in a dangerous situation, I need all the tools in my tool belt … if I need to call the police … if I need that tool, I should have the right to make that call. And until we [had] a Good Samaritan Law, sex workers [didn’t] have that right.”
Decriminalize Sex Work (DSW) is a national organization pursuing a state-by-state strategy to end the prohibition of consensual adult prostitution in the United States. DSW works with local organizations, advocates, and lobbyists to build community support and convince legislators to stop prostitution-related arrests. Evidence shows that decriminalizing sex work will help end human trafficking, improve public health, and promote community safety.