The Montpelier City Council unanimously agreed to repeal two city ordinances related to prostitution, following the recommendation last year by the city’s Police Review Committee.
The council agreed to remove ordinances that included language such as “no female person shall be a prostitute” and “no person shall keep a house of prostitution.”
The ordinances had not been enforced in decades, said City Manager Bill Fraser, and prostitution will continue to be illegal in Montpelier under state law.
“This ordinance is intolerable,” District 3 Councilor Cary Brown said. “It cannot stay. It is sexist. Keeping this ordinance will do nothing to help victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.”
A self-described longtime sex worker, J. Leigh Oshiro-Brantly, co-founder of the advocacy group of The Ishtar Collective, encouraged the councilors to repeal the ordinances.
“You are taking the consideration and the time to pull out sexist language from your city,” Oshiro-Brantly said. “And it is true; the only other place in Vermont that has this is, I believe, Winooski.”
But a 30-year Los Angeles Police Department veteran told the council Wednesday night that getting rid of the ordinances would be a mistake.
Dr. Stephany Powell of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation has trained the Montpelier Police Department in how to take a more victim-centered approach to human trafficking.
“You are inviting more crime into more area,” she said. “And you are also allowing the ability of sex workers to roam freely in your community.”
One councilor noted that doing away with the ordinances may give some people in Montpelier a bit of human dignity.
“If we doubted that people were stigmatized before tonight, I think there was evidence this evening — when we talk about turning tricks and that type of talk — that shows that people are not treated on the same human level as others,” District 2 Councilor Conor Casey said. “It’s so antiquated, it doesn’t belong in our codes — it belongs in a Charles Dickens novel.”