Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking leaves no land untouched. In 2013 the U.S. State Department estimated that there are 27 million victims worldwide trafficked for forced labor or commercial sex exploitation. A 2011 report from the Department of Justice found that of more than 2,500 federal trafficking cases from 2008 to 2010, 82% concerned sex trafficking and nearly half of those involved victims under the age of 18. Scholars note that the phenomenon represents a serious health issue for women and girls worldwide. Beyond the human cost, trafficking may also compromise international security, weaken the rule of law and undermine health systems.

Since the United Nations adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children in 2000, global efforts have been made by the international community to address the growing problem. Challenges remain significant, however, in particular because of its profitability: According to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking is a $32 billion industry, second only to illicit drugs. A 2011 paper in Human Rights Review found that sex slaves cost on average $1,895 each while generating $29,210 annually, leading to “stark predictions about the likely growth in commercial sex slavery in the future.”

A 2012 study published in World Development“Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?” investigates the effect of legalized prostitution on human trafficking inflows into high-income countries. The researchers — Seo-Yeong Cho of the German Institute for Economic Research, Axel Dreher of the University of Heidelberg and Eric Neumayer of the London School of Economics and Political Science — analyzed cross-sectional data of 116 countries to determine the effect of legalized prostitution on human trafficking inflows. In addition, they reviewed case studies of Denmark, Germany and Switzerland to examine the longitudinal effects of legalizing or criminalizing prostitution.

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.

While trafficking inflows may be lower where prostitution is criminalized, there may be severe repercussions for those working in the industry. For example, criminalizing prostitution penalizes sex workers rather than the people who earn most of the profits (pimps and traffickers).

“The likely negative consequences of legalised prostitution on a country’s inflows of human trafficking might be seen to support those who argue in favour of banning prostitution, thereby reducing the flows of trafficking,” the researchers state. “However, such a line of argumentation overlooks potential benefits that the legalisation of prostitution might have on those employed in the industry. Working conditions could be substantially improved for prostitutes — at least those legally employed — if prostitution is legalised. Prohibiting prostitution also raises tricky ‘freedom of choice’ issues concerning both the potential suppliers and clients of prostitution services.”


Source: Journalist Resource

7 Replies to “Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?”

  1. Studies of this nature are critical to the ongoing discussion on sex trafficking and legal prostitution. Key to an accurate study is the proper definition of sex trafficking and a fair analysis of those willingly practicing sex work.

    Some research claims that between 600,000 and four million women and children are trafficked for the purposes of sex each year. However, these figures came under scrutiny in 2006 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which cited weak methods, gaps and discrepancies, concluding that data were generally not reliable. There is also inconsistency in definitions of trafficked victims. For example, Melissa Farley claims that all prostitution is sex trafficking, including legal prostitution in Nevada—a claim many legal prostitutes would dispute. Moreover, researchers Estes and Weiner, in a report entitled The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, claim high concentrations of rap music in neighborhoods contribute to potential sex trafficking—a clearly racist and classist (not to mention stupid) assumption.

  2. I fai to see how there’s any real relevance in establishing exact definitions of what is a victim of sex trafficking and what is a prostitute. If one child is trafficked sexually against their will (which is the only way a child can be made to have sex) is a critical issue. One life is just as important as many lives. I think the general consensus of the population agrees on these definitions so arguing semantics just sidelines the focus of the discussion unnecessarily. Why place relevance or value on an argument that alters the general definition of any of these terms just to support an argument which therefore is invalid? It just slows progress my complicating the situation with a lot of nonsense disguised as valid point. When you weigh what is more important between protecting children who are trafficked for sex and allowing prostitutes the freedom to choose to have sex for money in an environment that supports quality working conditions is there even any thought needed to conclude which one is more important? Even in America where we have so many freedoms, we also live by laws that prevent us from having total freedom of choice, and a lot of things like the choice to sell heroin or murder somebody that pisses you off are restricted to protect the common well-being of the population at large. Freedom of choice shouldn’t even be brought up when discussing an issue as serious and hideous as the trafficking of young children (or anyone) who is trafficked against their will for sex. So prostitution is illegal. Boo hoo you can’t decide for yourself to perpetuate a demand for sex that creates the problem of child sex trafficking. Life just isn’t fair, everybody knows that. Go be a secretary or a sex therapist for god sake’s! It’s not like you don’t have a lot of other options. Nobody has zero skills other than having sex. If indeed the legalization of prostitution creates a higher demand for and an influx of child sex trafficking victims then how can there even be talk of a decision that needs to be made? We have a responsibility to protect children ( and other fellow humans that are being victimized) that have no control over the situation BEFORE we worry about freedom of choice for adults who otherwise have a whole lot of choice about whether they are prostitutes even when it’s illegal and they have less than stellar conditions to work in.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.