Maine governor vetoes bill partially decriminalizing prostitution


Maine Gov. Janet Mills vetoed legislation that would have made the state the first in the nation to fight sex trafficking by partially decriminalizing prostitution.

The measure, which passed the state Legislature along party lines, would have reduced prostitution penalties for people who have been sold into the sex trade and provide them social services and opportunities. It would have also increased punishment for pimps and traffickers who coerce often vulnerable people into the underground network.

The Democratic governor said she wasn’t convinced that the bill provided “the best path forward” in dealing with Maine’s trafficking problem. The state is a trafficking hub where victims are recruited and sent to major cities down the East Coast, such as New York and Boston.

Mills was swayed by divisions within the sex trafficking advocacy community over the legislation.

“While some hope this bill will protect the survivors of human trafficking, a goal I share, others fear that sex traffickers will use decriminalization of prostitution as a way to entice more people into their trade,” she said in a letter to state lawmakers explaining her decision. “Telling their victims that what they are doing is not a problem — a concern that I also believe is legitimate,”

Anti-trafficking advocates have been lobbying state lawmakers across the country to adopt this “equality” model as the best approach to reducing stigma and helping victims feel safe coming forward. But, so far, none of these laws have passed — and Mills' veto is a major blow to the movement.

Mill’s endorsed a separate bill, which was recently signed into law, as a better way in her view. That law expands the defense for engaging in prostitution if someone did so to prevent injury, economic hardship or threat, which is “a more measured approach for promoting both public safety and compassion for survivors of sex trafficking.”

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