GIANNINI: Testimony to Oppose Bill to Legalize Prostitution in RI

April 1, 2024
Honorable Members of the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee for your April 4 hearing: I am writing to strongly oppose Senate bill S2934.

As the original sponsor of the bills to ban human trafficking, sex trafficking, and indoor prostitution in Rhode Island in 2009, I have done extensive research on the impact of decriminalized prostitution, particularly in Rhode Island.

There have been numerous reports, peer-reviewed papers, and opinion editorials on the harm and exploitation of prostitution. You only need to hear the testimony of former victims of human and sex trafficking to understand the consequences of opening the door to decriminalization of a sex industry that was prevalent in Rhode Island till laws were passed in October of 2009.

In the past, I have testified before the Rhode Island Senate and House on the harm of decriminalizing prostitution and how removing criminal penalties, especially from sex buyers, allows the expansion of the sex industry and the causes an increase in sex trafficking. These serious crimes are perpetrated by individual criminals and organized crime groups.

Before 2009, Rhode Island had decriminalized prostitution.

Under the loophole in the past Prostitution law, indoor prostitution was legal behind closed doors. This left open for Rhode Island to be the sex industry’s “ safe haven” for transporting women and teenagers over the state lines to Rhode Island.

Runaways, children, young teens and young males were victims of human trafficking here for the purpose of sexual in strip clubs and hotels across the state.

Thirty illegal sex brothels, posing as massage parlors, existed across the state where women and young girls were kept as sex slaves living in inhumane conditions. Disease, drugs and physical harm were prevalent amongst these victims.

The people involved in selling sex are often victims of childhood sexual abuse and other adverse childhood experiences. They frequently suffer from substance abuse and addiction. They are usually controlled by pimps or others who facilitate and profit from their exploitation.

Do we really want to return to the dark times of sexual exploitation of women, teens and children? So much has been done to try to help the victims, but your focus should be in providing more help and resources to the victims of sexual exploitation instead of encouraging them to continue a dangerous lifestyle.

It’s time to allocate more services for the victims to be kept safe and start new lives away from the sexual predators who make millions on the backs of these victims.

Please oppose this bill and think ….it could be your sister, child, brother, son, daughter or family member, let’s not go backwards, let’s move forward to help an ongoing problem in our state today. To decriminalize these crimes against humanity would be totally irresponsible and less to the victimizations of thousands of young vulnerable victims.

Passing these bills would only restore Rhode Island’s dirty little secret for years, where children, woman, teens and young males were used as pawns in a sexual exploitation ring g to make money for a dark and criminal sex industry.

I have attached a point by point summary of my opposition to the bill. Please read.

Yours truly,
Joanne Giannini
former State Representative from District 7 Providence (1995 to 2011)

Explanation of senate bill S2934

The bill calls for full legalization of prostitution, including legalizing pimping. The bill would fully decriminalize the sex trade in Rhode Island, including acts of pimping, purchasing sex, and brothels. The move not only threatens the well-being of vulnerable women and children throughout the state, but it will also increase sex trafficking throughout the region.

Specifically, the bill:

Decriminalizes pimping. The bill repeals 11-34.1-7, so that the act of pimping is no longer unlawful. Since these prohibitions function as lesser penalties and deterrents for sex  traffickers, their repeal would fuel the exploitation of vulnerable women and children in Rhode Island by making it more difficult to hold traffickers and exploiters accountable.

Decriminalizes sex-buying. Repealing the prohibitions against sex-buying in 11-34.1-3, signals to society that this is socially acceptable behavior. As a result, men who were deterred by the illegality will now enter the market, driving up the demand for paid sex. Sex buyers will not just come from Rhode Island, but will flock to the state from across the country via sex tourism as they once did when the state previously decriminalized indoor prostitution between 1980-2009. As a result, sex trafficking will increase in the region as traffickers seek to meet this increased demand for paid sex with women and girls from our most marginalized communities.

Decriminalizes brothels. The bill repeals laws against brothel-keeping under the statute. This will lead to a rise of informal, residential brothels throughout the state that are operated without regulation, standards or oversight. Not only will this attract organized crime, but it
will put exploited people further under the control of pimps and brothel owners. At the same time, it will impede the detection of child sex trafficking, since law enforcement will no longer have probable cause to enter suspected sights of prostitution.

Positions Rhode Island as a regional sex tourism destination once again. By decriminalizing acts of pimping, purchasing sex, and operating brothels, the sex industry in Rhode Island and surrounding areas will greatly expand, unleashing market forces that will attract organized and other collateral crime and big businesses, establishing the state as a regional sex tourism
destination once again. Providence was once known as the red light district of New England and with the passage of this legislation, that will be sure to happen once again.

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