Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt, D-South Portland, and Gov. Janet Mills embrace as Mills signs partial sex work decriminalization into law. From left to right: Rep. Adam Lee, D-Auburn, Rep. Reckitt, Gov. Mills, Rep. Amy Kuhn, D-Falmouth, Rep. Erin Sheehan, D-Biddeford, Rep. Matt Moonen, D-Portland. Photo courtesy of House Democratic Office

Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law Monday that partially decriminalizes prostitution in Maine.

The new law will eliminate criminal charges for sex workers while maintaining that those who pay for sex services or engage in trafficking of sex workers can still be criminally charged.

“We are long overdue to better protect and decriminalize sellers engaged in prostitution without legalizing pimping and sex buying­, acts that would expand the market in Maine,” said Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt, D-South Portland, who sponsored the bill.

In addition to eliminating the crime of engaging in prostitution, the amended bill elevates solicitation of a child for commercial sexual exploitation from a Class D crime to Class C, and alters state law to include the term “sexual exploitation” when referencing the paid solicitation of sex from minors and people with mental disabilities.

Many view the bill as a crucial step toward protecting those engaged in sex work. Supporters have pointed to the success of the partial decriminalization model in countries such as Canada, Ireland, Sweden and France in decreasing demand for the sex trade and staving off sexual exploitation.

However, some members of the sex work industry have criticized the bill for failing to fully decriminalize their work, arguing that as long as the purchase of sex remains illegal, sex workers will continue to face threats to their safety and wellbeing.

Critics have also denounced what some see as the bill’s conflation of sex trafficking and consensual sex. They say sex workers’ ability to make a living will be compromised if their customers can still be criminally charged.

The law will go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.

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