New Hampshire HB 1614 would legalize consensual sex between consenting adults and makes any solicitation of sexual contact involving a person under 18 years of age or through the use of force or intimidation a felony. The bill was co-sponsored by first-term representative Elizabeth Edwards (D), by Representative Carol McGuire (R), and by Representative Amanda Bouldin (D) and introduced January 6, 2016. It was heard in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on January 28th, 2016.
On February 16, 2016 Representative Edwards held a press conference and said why she sponsored the bill:
“We put forward this bill in response to Amnesty International’s August 2015 recommendations that governments across the world decriminalize prostitution. They are joining the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking of Women, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Foundation, and Anti-Slavery International. We expect passage of this bill to result in reduced violence against women, reduced spread of sexually transmitted infections and an increase of cooperative relationships between sex workers and police including access to the justice system for people who have not had access to our institutions.”
On February 16, 2015 pubic testimony was heard in regard to the bill, Rachel West of US PROStitutes Collective testified before the Committee about the vulnerability to violence that the criminalization of sex work imposes in the industry and how Black and other people of color are disproportionately targeted:
“[This bill] would increase safety. This is the big concern. [Criminalization] forces prostitution underground and when it’s underground all kinds of things can happen to women and there’s no recourse to be able to go to the police because most sex workers don’t report to the police when they’re victims or rape and other violence. There have been so many cases of serial murders. One of the most recent one was in Los Angeles where between 100 and 200 black women are missing or have been killed. Nobody knows about this case. We’re talking about 200 women that have been killed. And that case was labeled by the police ‘No Humans Involved.’ That’s what they called it- NHI- and it was dismissed until recently until a film was made about it, has anybody taken notice about it.”
Bella Robinson of COYOTE who reported that when arrests of sex workers stopped in Rhode Island, levels of STDs fell. Her testimony talked about the “hypocrisy of regulating sex between two consenting adults”:
“To suggest that I live near a school, or a church, or your house, or your house and I have free sex, and it’s OK and that what I’m doing [when I work in the sex industry] is any different is pretty insulting.
In all of North America, sex workers have less STD’s than the general public. The more empowered a sex worker is, the more she is able to protect herself.
When you can’t call the police to report violence, or you end up living with a man and he becomes abusive, you can’t call the police because he’s going to tell. He’s going to tell you’re a sex worker. He’s going to tell your landlord. You might be evicted. You might be arrested while he’s left in the house with your children, so we’ve actually forced these women to stay in these abusive situations. A lot of my research is showing that a lot of shelters in several states refuse to take sex workers or trafficking victims.”
Phoebe Jones of the Global Women’s Strike talked about the rise in women going into prostitution. She said that the organization supports the slogan, “Outlaw poverty, not prostitution because this is a lot about poverty. When one in 25 families in the US lives on less that $2 a day, when single mothers are consistently the poorest, and when welfare reform shredded what little there was of a safety net, it’s not surprising that so many women faced with no alternative resort to prostitution to survive, feed their kids, and put a roof over their heads.”
“The children of sex workers who are criminalized faced being separated from their mothers and face being forcibly taken into foster care or adopted. Decriminalization would allow mothers to get support, rather than punishment.”
The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted on February 17, 2016 on HB 1614. West reported that 6 voted for the bill and 10 voted against it, however a motion passed to move the bill for an interim study and in effect, was not killed. It will next go the full House for a vote.
Rachel West of US PROStitute Collective spoke to KGNU after the vote: