Rhode Island Targeted to Decriminalize Sex Work

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Lobbyists Advocate for Prostitution in Rhode Island and New Hampshire

An admitted sex buyer has announced that he is heading-up a state-by-state lobbying campaign to decriminalize prostitution. His first targets are New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Last year, a group called Decriminalize Sex Work contacted lobbying firms in New Hampshire looking for someone to advocate for bills to set up a study commission on the prostitution laws and decriminalize prostitution. Their ultimate goal is to legalize prostitution in private residences, hotel rooms, and licensed businesses everywhere in the United States.

According to the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s website, former Republican Senator Robert Clegg  and Periklis Karoutas, both with the lobbying firm Legislative Solutions, work for Decriminalize Sex Work. So far, the lobbyists in New Hampshire have opposed a bill that will increase penalties against sex buyers who purchase underage victims

By all national and international standards, children cannot consent to commercial sex, and adults who pay for sex with children are serious criminals. So, why does a group that claims it is supporting legalizing consensual adult prostitution oppose penalties against predators who sexually abuse children?

In Rhode Island, Wally Gernt’s public relations firm, the Bradford Group, has been hired to lobby for bills supporting decriminalization of prostitution. In January and February of this year, the Bradford Group was paid $3000/month by Decriminalization of Sex Work (operating under the initials DSW in Rhode Island). On their monthly reports filed with the RI Department of State, lobbying for H5354, the bill to create a “study commission” on the prostitution laws is listed as their activity. The lobbyists include: Chris Reilly with the Bradford Group and Melissa Broudo with an email address that connects her to the Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights (SOAR) Institute in New York. And starting in mid-March, Kaytlin Bailey from SOAR will start work earning $3000/month. She will be joined by Bella Robinson, from local COYOTE-RI, working pro-bono.

Decriminalize Sex Work says it is not a “wobbly startup organization.” Last month, in the Washington Examiner, its founder claimed to have raised $1 million so far. The group is headquartered in Austin, Texas, but chose New Hampshire and Rhode Island to start their campaign because they are small, liberal or libertarian states, where they think they might get easy victories, and start a national movement.

Decriminalize Sex Work has the perfect leader to advocate for the right of men to buy sex. A man who recently “came out” as a sex buyer. He seems to think it was a brave declaration of liberation. Although as an unmarried man, he admits it will be hard for many other men to “come out” as sex buyers because “usually their family or their girlfriend aren’t going to like to hear it.”

Bob Kampia is a former organizer for legalization of marijuana, however his behavior and attitude towards women have got him pushed out of that movement. Now, he has shifted his attention to decriminalizing prostitution.

There is a lot of talk about Kampia’s sexual harassment and office sexual misconduct in the Washington gossip columns. According to the Reliable Source in the Washington Post staff observed or endured his sexual “predatory behavior” numerous times. In 2010, he told a female employee that he wanted to give a woman who had gotten breast implants a “breast massage.”

One staff person said “He was known as someone who made crude and inappropriate comments about and to women.” The final straw was when he had sex with a subordinate employee (Kampia admitted it was a repeat offense).

After being forced to resign and agreeing to get therapy for his attitudes toward women, he excused his behavior by saying, “I just think I’m hypersexualized”

It appears that Rob Kampia is a perfect kind of guy to advocate for the decriminalization of an industry that makes money from sexually exploiting women and girls. If anyone doubts what the decriminalization movement is about, look to one of its leaders.

Donna M. Hughes

Carlson Endowed Chair in Women’s Studies
University of Rhode Island