STUDY: There's A Much Better Way To Control Prostitution


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

There’s a way to end human trafficking, and it involves punishing the men who seek out sex instead of the women selling it, social scientists say. Current laws against prostitution endanger women who are often victims themselves, according to a study by Samuel Lee at NYU and Petra Perrson at Columbia University. 

Because prostitution is illegal, women are denied opportunities to receive healthcare or go to police for help in a bad situation, the authors wrote. 

The solution? legalise prostitution and heavily criminalise johns who seek out services outside the legal parameters. 

The authors explain: 

The optimal policy is to combine regulated prostitution with severe criminal penalties on johns who buy sex from unregulated sources. This policy is the most effective against trafficking precisely because it creates a “safe harbor” for voluntary sex work and thereby drains the demand for trafficking. Second, if the objective is to abolish prostitution—be it voluntary or involuntary—completely, the optimal policy is to enforce severe criminal penalties on johns in general…Finally, criminalizing johns is strictly superior to criminalizing prostitutes. The former can always deter as much voluntary prostitution as the latter, but it is more effective in reducing trafficking and comes without the unjust side effect of penalising involuntary prostitutes.

No one’s tested this system, Lee and Perrson say.

Here’s a chart showing the top destination countries for human trafficking and their policy on the practice. This shows that just legalizing prostitution isn’t enough to deter trafficking. 

prostitution countries

Photo: Columbia University

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