AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers will hear a bill Wednesday afternoon in Augusta that would decriminalize prostitution in Maine.
L.D. 326 changes the term "prostitute" to "prostituted person," and repeals the crime of engaging in prostitution.
It would also allow a person convicted of a crime of engaging in prostitution in Maine to ask the court to expunge the record. The law would apply to the person providing the service. The person buying the service would still face criminal charges, according to Katie Walsh with the Maine House Democrats.
Representative Lois Galgay Reckitt (D - South Portland) introduced the bill Wednesday.
"They end up with a criminal record that can totally ruin their life," Rep. Reckitt said about people who are arrested for offering services as a prostituted or trafficked person. "I think the only way you get rid of prostitution is to reduce the demand, and the only way to reduce the demand is to get the buyers not to want to buy because it's dangerous for them."
The founder of Survivor Speak USA, an outreach and advocacy group for survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution, Dee Clarke, believes decriminalizing the law will not help.
Clarke is a survivor of prostitution and sex trafficking. It began for her at age 12 in Boston.
"Now it says that person's not breaking a law, so we don't have to go and determine how we can help or not help. It doesn't make sense," said Clarke. "If you're looked at as trafficked, there's at least a path."
Clarke said when survivors get arrested, police put them in touch with resources to help them get out of the business of commercial sex. Clarke believes that decriminalizing it allows people to ignore trafficked or prostituted persons because they would no longer be breaking a law.
Rep. Reckitt disagrees, saying that police should change their focus, interacting with women to help them, not arrest them.
She said her idea is based off the "Nordic Model," which according to the website "Nordic Model Now!" has now been adopted in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France, Ireland, and most recently, Israel.
"The women eventually begin to not look at the police as 'oh my god, I have to get out of here,' but these are people that might help me not have violence perpetrated on me," said Rep. Reckitt.
"Just because of their age, you cannot call them anything but a victim of sex trafficking. Period," said Clarke. "Through the whole time I was in it, I never told anybody, 'I don't want this. I don't like this.' If I had to say something, I defended it. Did I want out? Yes, but how would I know how to say that [at age 12]?"
The Maine Sex Trafficking and Exploitation Network works closely with survivors of sex trafficking.