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Maine Becomes First U.S. State to Pass Equality Model Law

Maine joins Sweden, France, Norway, Canada, and other jurisdictions around the world that decriminalize people in prostitution while holding sex buyers and exploiters accountable

July 11, 2023 – Maine made history today as the first state in the country to enact a law known as the Equality Model, also called the Nordic or Abolitionist Model. Gov. Janet Mills signed An Act to Reduce Commercial Sexual Exploitation and An Act to Provide Remedies for Survivors of Commercial Sexual Exploitation, which jointly create tools to support sex trade survivors and hold their perpetrators accountable.

Together the Acts solely decriminalize and end the arrests of people bought and sold in the system of prostitution, eliminating the crime of engaging in prostitution. The law will offer survivors the services they need, while maintaining penalties against patronizers (sex buyers) and other exploiters for the grievous harm and violence they cause. The law also seals records of prostitution convictions so survivors can rebuild their lives without fear of discrimination in housing, employment, and in other sectors that are key to enjoying fundamental human rights.

The passage of these Acts makes Maine the first in the nation to enact an Equality Model framework, which no longer tolerates sexual harassment, sexual violence, and other crimes just because patronizers pay to commit these offenses. Sweden was the first country to pass an Equality Model law in 1999, targeting sex buyers (99.9% of whom are men) who almost single-handedly fuel the global multi-billion-dollar sex trade.

“It’s a momentous day when our elected officials finally recognize that no one should be criminalized for being in situations of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, and that who the state should target are perpetrators,” said Tricia Grant, executive director of the Maine-based survivor-led organization Just Love Worldwide. “I am proud that Maine is the first state in the country to listen to survivors and understand that what we endured was not ‘work,’ but pervasive injuries and violence that destroy individuals’ lives and communities.”

This groundbreaking law is the culmination of years of the tireless dedication and courage of sex trade survivors in Maine, like Ms. Grant, and the Acts’ sponsor Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt (D-South Portland). The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) congratulates them as well as our partners, Rights4Girls, World Without Exploitation, and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, for joining these grassroots efforts in Maine to make this law a reality.

“The Acts codify universal principles of human rights and are in sync with international law and U.S. federal policy that acknowledge that the buying and selling of human beings, including for sexual acts, must only exist in history books,” says Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of CATW. “Today’s victory in Maine gives us deep hope that equality for women and girls, especially of color, can one day become reality.”

Maine joins Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Canada, Northern Ireland, France, the Republic of Ireland, and Israel as countries committed to ending the system of prostitution and to targeting the demand for it as a tool to prevent sex trafficking and to change cultural norms that dehumanize marginalized individuals, overwhelmingly women and girls.


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