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Shelburne is a town in Chittenden County, Vermont. It is a suburb of Burlington located on the shore of Lake Champlain, and has a population of roughly 7,000. Prostitution and sex trafficking in the area have been well-documented for over a decade. For example, in February 2013, a man was sentenced in U.S. District Court for lining up Vermont customers for prostituted women and trafficked girls from New York who would perform sex acts on up to 10 farm workers a day in the rural areas around Shelburne and Burlington. This offender was the last of the four defendants to face sentencing for their roles in a prostitution ring that authorities began uncovering in 2011, but the investigation was still expanding to other suspects. The investigation began in 2011, after a routine stop by Border Patrol agents in Vermont discovered a man and a woman he was pimping. The pair had driven up from Queens, N.Y. and stayed that night at a hotel on Shelburne Road. The next day, the woman was driven to three different farms to meet migrant laborers. At the first one, she was sexually exploited by four men. At a second farm, she met another four sex buyers and at a third farm, two more. The next day, the duo went to another farm, where she was used by two more men in exchange for money. They were en route to another farm when Border Patrol pulled them over, and agents searched truck and found a green ledger book containing the names, addresses and phone numbers of numerous farms in Vermont and New York. The ledger also contained contacts at each farm and a list of the women providing prostitution services, with a tally of farmworkers serviced beside each name. In the truck, agents found a GPS unit with farm addresses stored in it, and two cellphones that contained addresses frequented by the trafficker. An employee of a motel in Shelburne told investigators that the trafficker had stayed at the hotel on nine separate occasions under numerous different names between April 2010 and the time he was arrested in March 2011. Each time, he had checked in with different young females that the motel employee guessed were between 16 and 20 years old. On every visit, he paid in cash. The investigation eventually revealed a criminal enterprise in which traffickers would take requests from Vermont farm workers who wanted a prostitute and texted their addresses to an accomplice in New York, who would deliver them to the farms. This case is not unique to the area. A number of human trafficking investigations across Vermont between 2013 and 2016 — including in Burlington, Shelburne, Colchester, Williston, Rutland, and Bennington — involved massage spas and parlors serving as fronts for illegal activity. Authorities said that traffickers would bring young women to Vermont from overseas or other states and force them into sex work.
To combat prostitution and sex trafficking in the area, local law enforcement agencies have targeted consumer-level demand for commercial sex, which provides the revenue stream driving all commercial sex and trafficking. For example, in July, 2014, the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office announced that the sex buyers arrested during the June operation would be given the opportunity to avoid prosecution pending completion of a class that discusses the “complex circumstances that underlie prostitution.” The class will be taught by the director of Give Way to Freedom, a foundation that focuses on human trafficking awareness, prevention and recovery services, and will reportedly cover “statistics, facts and characteristics about all forms of human trafficking and the victimization caused by the crime.” When asked about his decision to offer a diversion program for sex buyers, the State’s Attorney stated:
“One of the purposes of sentencing is deterrence, and that purpose has already been achieved. They have all been publicly shamed. What’s more important is general deterrence. What best achieves that is educating these men that prostitution is complex, dangerous, violent against women — many are young, have issues, and are addicted to drugs… I’m trying to raise awareness that it’s not just about sex. You have to look at the context, and the context is the heroin epidemic in the state. We have 16, 17-year-olds prostituting themselves to feed their addiction. It provides us an opportunity to raise awareness of the larger issue here.”
In 2018, a Northfield Selectman who had also worked as a deputy sheriff and EMT in Washington County reached a plea deal over charges of solicitation of prostitution that required him to take part in counseling, complete 100 hours of community service, and take part in a community reparative board process. He had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of committing a prohibited act by soliciting prostitution in Shelburne. The investigation started when a manager at a shelter in Shelburne reported “suspicious activity” to the Shelburne Police Department. A man who was staying there reported that he had sex with the suspect in exchange for money, and the man agreed to cooperate with police and set up another meeting with the suspect. At the arranged time, the suspect went to the man’s room and took off his shoes, the man left the room, then police officers walked in. Police said suspect had the $32 that he had earlier agreed to pay the man. The offender later admitted to having sex several times with the man. The man resigned his position at the Washington County Sheriff’s Department shortly after he was charged.
- Shelburne Police Department
- South Burlington Police Department
- U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives
- Department of Homeland Security
- Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office
- Give Way to Freedom
Reverse Sting, Arrest, Disclosure of Identity, Community Service:
- http://www.wcax.com/Northfield-Selectboard-member-charged-with-soliciting-a-prostitute (2018)
- https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/vermont-police-officer-accused-hiring-prostitute-shelburne/ (2018)
- https://vtdigger.org/northfield-selectman-charged-prostitiution-avoids-jail-time/ (2018)
- https://www.usnews.com/vermont-police-officer-denies-hiring-prostitute (2018)
- http://www.shelburnenews.com/officer-charged-soliciting-prostitute-shelburne/ (2018)
Loss of Employment:
- “Class Set Up for Men Caught in Burlington Prostitution Sting”, Bennington Banner, July 2 2014.
- “Men Arrested in South Burlington Prosecution Bust Won’t Be Prosecuted”, Seven Days, July 2 2014.
- “Vermont Offers Education, Not Prosecution, for Men Caught in Online Prostitution Sting”, Seymour Tribune, July 2 2014.
- “VT Passes On Prostitution-Related Prosecution”, Burlington Free Press, July 2 2014.
Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Region:
- “Prostitution Bust Catches Local Man, Shelburne Woman”, St. Albans Messenger, September 3 2008.
- “Woman, Man Arrested on Prostitution Charges”, Rutland Herald, September 4 2008.
- “Vt. Prostitutes One Click Away”, CBS/WCAX-TV 3, October 10 2008.
- “Shelburne Woman Admits Prostitution”, Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, March 18 2009.
- “Tip about Prostitution Leads to Woman’s Arrest”, St. Albans Messenger, April 22 2009.
- “Prostitution Bust in South Burlington”, CBS/WCAX-TV 3, April 23 2009.
- “Rutland Woman Arrested in South Burlington Prostitution Investigation”, Rutland Herald, January 27 2013.
- “Police Investigate Possible Prostitution Ring”, ABC/WVNY-TV 22, June 14 2013.
- “Shelburne Woman Accused of Prostitution in Court”, ABC/WVNY-TV 22, June 14 2013.
- “South Burlington Police Investigation Ends in Arrest”, ABC/WVNY-TV 22, June 14 2013.
- “South Burlington Woman Arrested for Prostitution”, ABC/WVNY-TV 22, June 14 2013.
- https://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/last-prostitution-ring-perp-to-be-sentenced-but-vermont-migrant-farmworker-sex-scandal (2013)
- https://www.benningtonbanner.com/two-bennington-massage-businesses-targeted-for-human-trafficking-prostitution (2013)
- https://www.justice.gov/defendants-charged-multiple-counts-related-interstate-prostitution-and-sex-trafficking (2018)
- https://www.mychamplainvalley.com/news/mcallister-wins-new-trial-on-prostitution-related-charge (2018)
- https://www.justice.gov/vermont-man-who-exploited-opioid-addictions-young-women-convicted-multiple-counts-sex-and (2019)
- https://www.benningtonbanner.com/prostitution-charge-filed-after-search-of-cozy-spa (2019)
- https://www.caledonianrecord.com/prostitution-human-trafficking-case-details-vermont-s (2019)
- https://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/trafficked/Content (2019)
- https://www.wcax.com/Vt-lawmaker-says-decriminalizing-prostitution-sex-workers-safe (2020)
- https://www.justice.gov/convicted-sex-trafficker-sentenced-270-months-prison (2020)
- https://www.wcax.com/massage-parlor-human-trafficking/ (2021)
State Decriminalization of Prostitution:
- https://www.wcax.com/Vt-lawmaker-says-decriminalizing-prostitution-will-keep-sex-workers-safe (2020)
- https://vtdigger.org/sex-work-decriminalization-bill-introduced/ (2020)
- https://suncommunitynews.com/vt-legalized-prostitution-study-bill-returns/ (2020)
- https://www.mynbc5.com/lawmakers-propose-bill-to-decriminalize-prostitution (2023)
- https://www.wcax.com/vt-bill-would-decriminalize-sex-work/ (2023)
- https://www.mychamplainvalley.com/push-for-bill-decriminalizing-adult-sex-work/ (2023)
- https://vtdigger.org/final-reading-advocates-look-to-decriminalize-sex-work/ (2023)