Legalized Prostitution and Human Trafficking

A 2012 study published in the World Development, “Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?” investigates the effect of legalized prostitution on human trafficking inflows into high-income countries.

The study’s findings include:

  • Countries with legalized prostitution are associated with higher human trafficking inflows than countries where prostitution is prohibited. The scale effect of legalizing prostitution, i.e. expansion of the market, outweighs the substitution effect, where legal sex workers are favored over illegal workers. On average, countries with legalized prostitution report a greater incidence of human trafficking inflows.
  • The effect of legal prostitution on human trafficking inflows is stronger in high-income countries than middle-income countries. Because trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation requires that clients in a potential destination country have sufficient purchasing power, domestic supply acts as a constraint.
  • Criminalization of prostitution in Sweden resulted in the shrinking of the prostitution market and the decline of human trafficking inflows. Cross-country comparisons of Sweden with Denmark (where prostitution is decriminalized) and Germany (expanded legalization of prostitution) are consistent with the quantitative analysis, showing that trafficking inflows decreased with criminalization and increased with legalization.
  • The type of legalization of prostitution does not matter — it only matters whether prostitution is legal or not. Whether third-party involvement (persons who facilitate the prostitution businesses, i.e, “pimps”) is allowed or not does not have an effect on human trafficking inflows into a country. Legalization of prostitution itself is more important in explaining human trafficking than the type of legalization.
  • Democracies have a higher probability of increased human-trafficking inflows than non-democratic countries. There is a 13.4% higher probability of receiving higher inflows in a democratic country than otherwise.

In the study, the researchers also discuss the potential benefits that legalization of prostitution might have on those employed in the industry.

Learn more at Carol Tan’s Journalist’s Resource article: Does legalized prostitution increase human trafficking?

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