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The RI House committee votes in favor of a bill that would provide immunity to sex workers

PROVIDENCE — The House Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday in favor of a bill that could provide immunity to sex workers who witness certain crimes, including prostitution, if they agree to try to cooperate with police investigations.

Some said the bill could also hinder criminal investigations into prostitution and sex trafficking, and worry it could be a step toward returning Rhode Island to a time when prostitution was legal.

But the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill, which now heads to the House of Representatives for a vote.

Commission Chairman Robert E. Craven Jr., a Democrat from North Kingstown, said, “The purpose of this proposed statute is to protect a woman who may have witnessed a crime of greater severity and who may otherwise not want to cooperate due to liability. from prostitution or other related activities.”

Rep. Edith H. Ajello, the Providence Democrat who introduced the bill, said: “It would also allow a sex worker who was the victim of a crime committed by so-called John — perhaps robbed, or perhaps beaten, or perhaps both — to that that person can report the crime and that the crime can be prosecuted’, and that the sex worker ‘would be protected from that perpetrator of bad acts, without fear of being accused of prostitution and sentenced to six months or a years in prison.’

The bill, H7165, was lobbied for by an out-of-state nonprofit called Decriminalize Sex Work, which was founded by Robert Kampia with the mission “to end the ban on consensual adult prostitution — and to to improve policies regarding other forms of prostitution”. of sex work – in the United States.”

And on Tuesday, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation produced a legal analysis saying the bill contains a loophole that could be used to protect pimps, sex traffickers and sex buyers.

The center’s vice president of public policy, Eleanor Gaetan, cited a section that would grant immunity to any person who “witnesses” or “becomes aware that another person was the victim of a crime” and reports it .

That language would “allow a pimp or trafficker to claim that he became aware that someone in prostitution has been the victim of a crime — and walk free for involvement in human trafficking,” Gaetan wrote. “In short,” she said, “this language gives bad actors a get-out-of-jail-free card for no purpose.”

Gaetan called for that language to be eliminated, saying, “This would promote justice for victims of human trafficking by not providing immunity from prosecution for smart or lawyered traffickers.”

—Amanda Milkovits of the Globe RI staff contributed to this report.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at [email protected]. follow him @FitzProv.

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