On legalizing exploitation: HB 287

Sometimes, my day job brings to my attention some bills in Concord that I would have otherwise missed. This one is straight out of are-you-kidding-me territory: HB 287, “establishing a committee to study the decriminalization of sex work.” That’s prostitution, in the PC lexicon.

Don’t laugh. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee voted overwhelmingly to recommend Ought to Pass, until in a fit of either common sense or leadership arm-twisting (I honestly don’t know which), they took it back. You can’t even see evidence of that vote on the docket anymore. Instead, you see that the executive (voting) session was “recessed” until February 14.


That’s do-over time. I hope they get it right. The bill’s text, listing the agencies to be consulted for the “study,” makes clear that the question is not whether to decriminalize prostitution, but when and how.  Otherwise, the committee would have been charged with hearing from survivors of commercial sex trafficking, and with people who work with those survivors.

When I saw the bill, I began asking questions, and I was very shortly in touch with women from around the country who have been active in efforts to resist treating – exploiting – people as sexual commodities. Without exception, all were concerned about some existing laws relating to prostitution – treating trafficked minors as criminals, for example.

Making commercial sex legal isn’t the answer.

I am still absorbing all that I have heard and read from the women fighting for human dignity in this policy arena. Some of them are trafficking survivors. They take legislation like HB 287 personally.

Thanks to them, I’m now in touch with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which is among other things a clearinghouse for public policy information. Maybe the next bill  will task a “study” committee with hearing from the Center. The current bill doesn’t. Likewise, World Without Exploitation is a resource not cited in HB 287.

Darlene Pawlik has a message for the committee, and she has shared it in her blog The Darling Princess.  She is an amazing Granite State woman and a powerful advocate for fellow survivors of sexual abuse.

Real people, human beings with dignity and value are worthy the protection of the law. People should not be sold. People should not be purchased.

You are seated on the committee charged with public safety. This isn’t about installing a crosswalk.

Graphic courtesy National Center on Sexual Exploitation.

By the way, did you know that Amnesty International has come out in favor of full decriminalization of prostitution? Their concern for human rights and dignity, which has been exemplary in many cases, falls to pieces when the subject is abortion or commercialized sex.

Buying and selling people is bad public policy. If a study committee is going to start with assumptions, start with that one.

Update: On February 14, 2017, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 12-8 to “retain” HB 287. That means that the bill has not been killed but it will not be advanced to the full House this year.