For Immediate Release: July 11, 2023 Rights4Girls rights4girls.org
Maine joins growing list of nations around the world enacting law to protect sex trade survivors from arrest and criminalization while holding their exploiters accountable
(Augusta, Maine) – Today, Maine made history as the first U.S. state to enact legislation known as the “Equality Model”— which will protect sex trade survivors from arrest and criminalization, while still holding their exploiters to account.
Survivors and advocates applaud Maine Governor Janet Mills for signing both “An Act to Reduce Commercial Sexual Exploitation” and “An Act to Provide Remedies for Survivors of Commercial Sexual Exploitation,” which together create an Equality Model framework that a.) protects people engaged in prostitution from criminal penalties, b.) seals records of their past prostitution convictions, and c.) holds accountable their exploiters for the devastating harm they cause.
The passage of these Acts makes Maine the first in the country to enact an Equality Model law—making it clear that those sold in prostitution ought not to be punished for the violence and exploitation they endure at the hands of sex buyers and other violent exploiters. First pioneered in Sweden, this legal approach has been shown to not only provide greater protection for the most vulnerable people in the sex trade, but also deter and prevent sex trafficking by targeting the demand for commercial sex.
“With this law, Maine becomes the first state to recognize that no one should be punished for their own exploitation,” said Yasmin Vafa, Executive Director of Rights4Girls. “Now, not only will sex trade survivors no longer be criminalized for prostitution, but their past records will be sealed, allowing them to rebuild their lives. We truly hope more states will follow Maine’s lead.”
These groundbreaking laws were championed by Rep. Lois Galgay-Reckitt on behalf of survivors throughout the state who together worked tirelessly to make these bills a reality. “Today, I am so proud to live here in Maine,” said Tricia Grant, a survivor of sexual exploitation. “This legislation acknowledges that arresting and revictimizing people for their own exploitation is not the solution. Rather, holding the exploiters and abusers accountable is the answer.”
Research shows that the vast majority of individuals in the sex trade come from marginalized communities and experience long-term physical and psychological trauma. This harm is exacerbated when those in prostitution— and not their exploiters— are punished and criminalized.
The Acts will help remedy these problems through enacting a partial decriminalization method— protecting those sold for prostitution and sealing their records, but not their exploiters. This model has already been successfully implemented in countries such as France, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Iceland, Ireland, and other jurisdictions. The Equality Model has proven to not only better support people in the sex trade and help them exit the industry, but is also an essential tool to prevent trafficking.
In addition to Gov. Mills and Rep. Reckitt, Rights4Girls expresses deep gratitude to the Maine and New England survivors who fought long and hard for this law over the last few years. We must also thank our partners at WorldWE, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, and The Jensen Project for working with Rights4Girls and our survivor allies towards this transformative change.