The Legislature is considering LD 326, An Act To Decriminalize Engaging in Prostitution. While some might find the suggestion of decriminalizing sex work preposterous or unseemly, I ask: What took so long, and why is only one legislator sponsoring this bill?
We know that there is a significant disparity between those who employ sex workers and sex workers themselves. Though sex work is sometimes an informed choice, it is often something done through force, coercion, manipulation, and/or a sense of having few or no other options.
For an important comparison analysis, one need look no further than the recent arrest of Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, for soliciting prostitution. Kraft, a billionaire, has the means and ability to employ the best lawyers in the country to fight this change. If he is found guilty, though he could potentially be given up to 120 days in prison, he will most likely be given a large fine, perhaps some parole and maybe house arrest, due in large part to his ability to obtain the best counsel available to him. When the dust has settled, he will go back to his life of privilege and luxury.
In contrast, sex-workers, when charged, have little choice or means for defense. And if found guilty, are then found in a conundrum. Even if they want to leave the business, it is hard, if not impossible, to find employment with their criminal record. A key piece of this legislation is the ability for those previously convicted of prostitution to have their record expunged. This is not only good for those previously convicted, but also good for the tax revenue of our state, as these people can now find employment and begin paying taxes — a win-win.
As far back as the early 2000s, the Best Practices Policy Project proposed to the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women decriminalizing prostitution in an effort to address violence against sex workers in the United Sates. Their reasoning was sound and evidence-based. They explain that women, men and transgender people who engage in sex work under-report crimes of sexual violence against them due to negative experiences with law enforcement in the past, fear of not being believed and/or fear of prosecution themselves.
In 2015, Amnesty International voted to adopt a resolution to protect the human rights of sex workers. This included a recommendation to support the full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work toward lessening the risk of abuse and violation that sex workers face.
Right here in Maine in 2017, the Legislature passed a law requiring the Secretary of State to provide information about recognizing and reporting human trafficking (which includes sex trafficking) to commercial drivers when they are obtaining or renewing their license. This led to mandated signage that many have probably noticed at local Bureau of Motor Vehicle offices.
With an increase in awareness about the realities of human trafficking and in the midst of the #metoo movement, this is an opportune time for our elected officials to move forward with decriminalizing sex work in Maine. I applaud Rep. Lois Reckitt for sponsoring this bill, and I implore more of our legislators to follow her lead and support this legislation.
Margaret Knapp of Winterport is a licensed social worker studying for a master’s degree in social work at the University of Maine.