Are nations which have legalised prostitution better able at controlling undesirable sides of the trade?

Source: geralt

 

Do nations which have legalised prostitution in some form, whether it be through a red light district, legal brothels, etc, and regulated the sex market. Have better capabilities at controlling the undesirable sides of the trade such as sex trafficking, child prostitution, and pimping?

 

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This question remains controversial and you can find ample research to argue one way or the other.

This comparative study found that “[o]n average, countries where prostitution is legal experience larger reported human trafficking inflows.” I haven’t read this study and it’s not clear to me how they define or measure “trafficking”, but the argument seems to be that legalization can increase the overall scale of the market for commercial sex to such an extent that illegal forms of prostitution actually increase alongside the regulated sector.

On the other hand here is a study from Rhode Island, a state in the USA where indoor prostitution was effectively legal for a few years. It claims that “[d]ecriminalization led to a 40 percent decrease in female gonorrhea incidence and a 30 percent decrease in reported rape offenses”.

dowcet

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When sex work is forced underground by criminalisation, sex trafficking necessarily goes unreported, because all witnesses are criminalised and thus unable to safely report the trafficking.

When sex work is decriminalised, reporting of sex trafficking no longer comes with legal risks, so reported numbers will increase. This does not mean that sex trafficking has increased, but merely that reporting has increased.

If you look at somewhere like New Zealand, with full decriminalisation, and the police actively working with sex workers to ensure safe environments, what you see is increased rates of reporting of even minor crimes against sex workers. This doesn’t mean that sex workers are suffering more crimes, it means that they are more able to safely report the crimes and receive fair and just treatment by the police.

sobri909

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Generally speaking, it is known in criminology that official statistics are not the best instrument to measure crime, as specific offense rates can increase or decrease depending on police activity (e.g. focusing on an issue rather than another) and how inclined victims are to report. For trafficking in human beings, there are compounded issues such as disincentives for victims to report, for example out of fear of reprisals (e.g. victims of human trafficking can risk being detained, prosecuted, deported) or lack of trust in authorities.

Decreased tolerance for sexual offenses, increased awareness, changes in legislation and policy, etc. are relevant considerations in the Scandinavian context. Concerning the trends of sexual offenses in Scandinavia, Tonry argues:

Since the late 1990s, sexual offenses in Scandinavian countries have received steadily increasing political and ideological attention (Skilbrei and Holmström, 2011, 2013). In both political debates and the media, crime discourse in Scandinavia is increasingly victim-centered and moralistic (Tham et al. 2011). The recent emphases on victims and on sexual offenses may have made victims and police more sensitive than in earlier times to minor kinds of invasive behavior, citizens more likely to perceive incidents as assaultive when answering victimization surveys and to report incidents to the police, and police more likely to treat them as offenses. Selmini and McElrath (2014) show that sexual offense rates in Scandinavia continued rising long after they began to fall in many countries.

It is reasonable to expect that depending on the implementation, legalizing prostitution increases reporting, which may explain why crimes such as human trafficking officially increase in justice statistics. In fact, increasing reporting is a key objective in approaches to THB (e.g. the principle of non-punishment).

Revue_of_Zero

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The Nordic model (selling sex is decriminalized, while buying sex is illegal) gets around this issue though.

Whilst producing worse outcomes on all other measures.

Decriminalisation is the only solution on offer that improves all measures.

UNDP, WHO, Amnesty, and a bunch of other big names all actively discourage the Nordic model and put their support behind decriminalisation.

 I should add also that sex workers themselves are adamant that the Nordic model does not “get around the legal issue”. Their position is that if their clients are criminalised, their profession (and thus themselves) remains criminalised by proxy. The consensus amongst sex workers globally it that the Nordic model is harmful to them, and reduces their safety, amongst other negative outcomes.

It also means that sex work customers remain unable to report sex trafficking, because doing so would result in their own conviction.

sobri909

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So, the idea is that sex workers are in a better position to see where trafficking is happening and report it. But if consensual sex work is illegal, they don’t report things because it can get them in trouble.

Also, there is research showing that in places where sex work is decriminalized (note: decriminalized not legalized, they are different) sex work is safer. (Ex. When sex workers are able to get help, they are less likely to suffer abuse silently.)

There’s a great TEDx about legalization vs decriminalization as it relates to both sex work and human trafficking: https://youtu.be/VJRBx0JjM_M

The Red Umbrella Project is another good org to get information: https://redumbrellaproject.org

http://nyf.org/newsmakers/red-umbrella-project-releases-first-ever-report-on-nyc-human-trafficking-intervention-courts-covered-in-the-nation/

http://www.transequality.org/sites/default/files/Meaningrul%2520Work%2520Executive%2520Summary_REVISED.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwinudCMrdzeAhWwFzQIHX-dCHY4ChAWMAJ6BAgIEAE&usg=AOvVaw0Rcx2chK68ch-tlGk9s0Ey

Also, it’s important to note in studies whether trafficking has increased or whether reporting has increased. (Ex. We’re getting more reports instead of trafficking victims just getting lost under the radar.)

noeinan

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I’d also add that in Amsterdam, which of course is famous for having very obviously legalized prostitution, there’s a sort of museum of sex work on the edge of the red light district that talks about the struggles of legitimate sex work and how trafficking attempts to undermine the legal process.

Garblin

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Finding meaningful answers to questions like this can be very difficult because the specific conditions of sex workers in one country could be very different than the conditions of sex workers in another country. You’d have to look at factors like… What is the poverty rate of the countries in question? Rate of addiction? Percentage of foreign sex workers? Where are those foreign sex workers from? How many sex workers are there? Regardless of legal status, how does the average citizen view sex workers? Are there many religious fundamentalists in the country? And… so on, and so forth.

NihiloZero

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The benefits of either decriminalizing or legalizing (aspects of) prostitution is arguably a controversial topic as it also involves ethical issues concerning sex work itself (e.g. not only conservative and religious groups may support prohibition, but some feminist groups too, albeit for different reasons).

Some scholars criticize legalization by suggesting that, for example, “legal sex businesses provide locations where sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and violence against women are perpetrated with impunity” and that “[s]tate-sponsored prostitution endangers all women and children in that acts of sexual predation are normalized—acts ranging from the seemingly banal (breast massage) to the lethal (snuff prostitution that includes filming of actual murders of real women and children)”. Similarly, the relationship between human trafficking and prostitution is often evoked, together with the notion that legalizing the latter contributes to the former. However, while there are studies that support this idea, the actual issue might be in the kind of model implemented.

There is likewise research suggesting that legalization can reduce sexual abuse and rape. For example: “Our difference-in-difference analysis using data on the largest 25 Dutch cities between 1994 and 2011 shows that opening a legal street prostitution zone decreases registered sexual abuse and rape by about 30% to 40% in the first two year”. In Rhodes Island they found that “decriminalization caused both forcible rape offenses and gonorrhea incidence to decline for the overall population. Our synthetic control model finds 824 fewer reported rape offenses (31 percent decrease)”.

An argument that can be made is that while legalization can make the “vulnerable more vulnerable”, the problem lies in how prostitution is legalized. For example, in the U.K., prostitution laws have pushed sex workers off-street. But as Hubbard and Scoular observe:

Sex workers can still be financially exploited, injured or killed when working off-street – particularly when premises are not surveyed or acknowledged by the authorities […] this apparently laissez-faire approach has delineated a private sphere of non-intervention, creating an unregulated market in which private forms of commercial sex are, by omission, sanctioned […] We hence conclude by arguing for policies that recognise that sex will always be bought and sold, and which do not seek to criminalise it or simply push it out of sight, but allow it to occur as safely, as orderly and as fairly as possible.

Another example can be found in this Swiss study, which recognizes that “[a]busive situations can develop in all sectors of this market” and that “the answer cannot be either or, but needs to consider contradictory aspects”, recommending that “regulations should be designed to increase sex workers’ protection without infringing on transparency and predictability for both sex workers and managers”.

I would conclude by noting that one of the ideas behind legalization is that it should allow sex workers to report crimes without fearing legal repercussions towards themselves. This means that there is a willingness to increase reporting, which would explain increases in official statistics following legalization. But this likewise depends on how each country deals with the issue and implements protections, such that for the more general case of human trafficking, there are victims that were/are prosecuted and/or deported because they are guilty of “illegal immigration”, which undermines the fight against trafficking in human beings.

Revue_of_Zero

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