On July 11, 2023, Gov. Janet Mills of Maine made history by signing An Act to Reduce Commercial Sexual Exploitation and An Act to Provide Remedies for Survivors of Commercial Sexual Exploitation into law, making Maine the first U.S. state to adopt an Equality Model framework. This is the result of years of work and advocacy by survivors, organizations, and allies across the country. Together, these acts:
Decriminalize persons in prostitution — Treating those in prostitution as victims of exploitation, vulnerability, and gender-based violence is central to the Equality Model.
Treat buying sex as a serious crime — Demand for commercial sex is the force that drives the commercial sex trade. Maine’s law maintains penalties for sex buyers while also creating increased penalties when minors and people with developmental disabilities are commercially sexually exploited.
Robustly fund exit services — Maine created a remedy for sealing survivors’ criminal records and a path to identifying funding for critical service programming. Sealing a victim’s criminal history removes substantial barriers to exiting 'the life,' including opening opportunities for housing, education, and employment. Additionally, by providing important funding, these laws will help end the cycle of exploitation with services that target the underlying drivers of commercial sexual exploitation, such as addiction, homelessness, and past trauma.
By signing these two bills into law, Maine has taken the lead for the rest of the United States in enacting laws that protect persons in prostitution. Those impacted by systems of prostitution are among the most vulnerable in our communities, and we must collectively focus our efforts on breaking the root causes of prostitution by providing access to services and robust exit strategies that lead to healing trauma and meaningful change.
When a person in prostitution is criminally charged for selling sex to survive, it further exacerbates their vulnerability. A single arrest or criminal conviction can serve as a massive barrier to accessing stable employment, housing, immigration, or educational opportunities. By repealing the crime of prostitution while maintaining penalties for sex buyers and providing necessary resources, Maine is supporting persons in prostitution to build a life outside of the sex trade, free from exploitation.
-Shea M. Rhodes, Esquire
Dawn's Place Board Member
Director and Co-Founder of Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial and Sexual Exploitation