January 31, 2024
Companion bills S.277 and H.605, introduced this month in Vermont, propose to eliminate offenses related to the location of prostitution while retaining the offenses of aiding or abetting, engaging in, or procuring or soliciting prostitution. Passage of this bill would increase access to housing for individuals formerly or currently engaged in sex work1, allow them to access justice should their right to housing be denied based on their occupation, and reduce stigma and discrimination against sex workers, which gravely affects all aspects of their lives. DSW and other advocates claim the bill is critical to ensuring equity, health, and safety2 for sex workers and should be part of the state’s strategy to keep marginalized and vulnerable individuals housed.
Some individuals choose sex work among other well-paying jobs and some are in circumstances, namely exclusion from the traditional labor force due to discrimination, that lead them to sex work even if it is not their first choice for earning an income. Like most individuals who engage in any form of labor, sex workers name accessing and maintaining housing as one of the primary motivators for engaging in sex work. Simultaneously, criminalization, along with stigma and discrimination often make it impossible for them to access and keep safe and adequate housing. In a 2016 report, Amnesty International writes, “Criminalization and discrimination often lead to violations of the right to adequate housing for many sex workers, even though this right is enshrined under international laws and standards.”
Criminalization punishes everyone involved in sex work, including those who are seeking a way out. Burdened with criminal records, many former sex workers who wish to exit the sex industry find themselves unable to do so and must return to sex work to make ends meet. Private housing providers often implement policies that restrict individuals with arrests or criminal convictions. Under current law, landlords may discriminate against sex workers. These circumstances push many sex workers, current and former, directly into homelessness.
Homeless or housing-unstable sex workers are more vulnerable to violence due to lack of access to private space for working and living. In particular, women sex workers face a high burden of unstable housing and evictions, which are linked to increased odds of intimate partner and workplace violence.3 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 harms to an already vulnerable population.
1 Sex work is the exchange of sexual services for money or something of value. Sex work includes the entire field of sexual services, both legal and illegal, including pornography, exotic dancing, fetish work, web-based work, and prostitution. Prostitution is the kind of sex work most often criminalized, and it is the direct, in-person exchange of sex for money or other things of value.
2 Goldenberg S.M., Buglioni N., Krüsi A., Frost E., Moreheart S., Braschel M., Shannon K. Housing Instability and Evictions Linked to Elevated Intimate Partner and Workplace Violence Among Women Sex Workers in Vancouver, Canada: Findings of a Prospective, Community-Based Cohort, 2010-2019. Am J Public Health. 2023 Apr;113(4):442-452. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2022.307207. PMID: 36888950; PMCID: PMC10003487.