The Bulletin Board

Legal protection for sex workers reporting sexual assault becomes law

By: - June 22, 2021 2:38 pm
Scales of justice

Former governor Jeanne Shaheen established the Juvenile Justice Statewide Advisory Group via executive order in 1999. (Getty Images)

A bill to protect sex workers who report sexual assault was passed into law on Monday with a signature from Gov. Chris Sununu.

House Bill 123 makes it clear that sex workers who report sexual abuse will not be prosecuted for prostitution, which is a misdemeanor under New Hampshire law.

Advocates say the legislation sends a needed message to victims of sexual assault that they can safely report crimes committed against them.

“It’s a really important principle that folks feel safe to come forward and report these kinds of crimes, whether it’s to access legal support or medical support to start their healing process,” said Pamela Keilig, a public policy specialist at the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

“No one should ever be afraid of arrest when reporting those types of crimes,” Keilig said. People react differently to sexual assault, but it can cause fear, isolation, numbness or shock, she said. She praised the measure as a way of removing additional barriers that could prevent a victim from coming forward.

An amendment was passed in the House to delete language from the bill that would have required victims to cooperate with law enforcement – a stipulation that would have run afoul of federal law, such as the Violence Against Women Act. As passed, the protections in HB 123 are consistent with federal law.

Opponents of the bill said it would lead to “false accusations,” a claim the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Nicole Klein-Knight, a Manchester Democrat, refuted. The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 5-0 vote and then passed the Senate on a voice vote.

The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.

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