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Sex Work and Infection: What's Law Enforcement Got to Do with It?

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  • Paul J. Gertler
  • Manisha Shah

Abstract

A number of countries are pursuing the regulation of sex work to decrease the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and to reduce the probability of a generalized human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome epidemic. We study the effects of enforcing licensing regulation laws on sex worker STI rates, using nationally representative sex worker data from Ecuador. We find that increasing enforcement in the street sector significantly decreases STIs. However, increasing enforcement in the brothel sector increases the probability of a sex worker ever being infected with any STI. Increasing enforcement in the street shifts some sex workers from the more risky street into the less risky brothels and increases street prices, reducing the overall number of street clients. As a result, overall infection rates decrease. In contrast, increasing enforcement in the brothel sector can exacerbate public health problems by inducing some unlicensed brothel sex workers into the riskier street sector.

Suggested Citation

  • Paul J. Gertler & Manisha Shah, 2011. "Sex Work and Infection: What's Law Enforcement Got to Do with It?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(4), pages 811-840.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:doi:10.1086/661634
    DOI: 10.1086/661634
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    Cited by:

    1. Alexander Muravyev & Oleksandr Talavera, 2018. "Unsafe Sex in the City: Risk Pricing in the London Area," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 65(5), pages 528-549, November.
    2. Immordino, G. & Russo, F.F., 2015. "Regulating prostitution: A health risk approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 14-31.
    3. Arunachalam, Raj & Shah, Manisha, 2010. "The Prostitute's Allure: Examining Returns to Beauty, Productivity and Discrimination," IZA Discussion Papers 5064, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    4. Seiro Ito & Aurélia Lépine & Carole Treibich, 2018. "The effect of sex work regulation on health and well‐being of sex workers: Evidence from Senegal," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 27(11), pages 1627-1652, November.
    5. He, Guojun & Peng, Wenwei, 2022. "Guns and roses: Police complicity in organized prostitution," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 207(C).
    6. Hiroyuki Yamada & Yuki Kanayama & Kanako Yoshikawa & Kyaw Wai Aung, 2023. "Risk attitude, risky behaviour and price determination in the sex market: A case study of Yangon, Myanmar," Pacific Economic Review, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 28(5), pages 665-691, December.
    7. Perrotta Berlin, Maria & Spagnolo, Giancarlo & Immordino, Giovanni & F. Russo, Francesco, 2019. "Retraction of: "Prostitution and Violence: Evidence from Sweden"," SITE Working Paper Series 52, Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, revised 27 Jun 2023.
    8. Wilson Nicholas, 2019. "The World’s Oldest Profession? Employment-Age Profiles from the Transactional Sex Market," IZA Journal of Labor Policy, Sciendo & Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 9(1), pages 1-17, June.
    9. Scott Cunningham & Manisha Shah, 2018. "Decriminalizing Indoor Prostitution: Implications for Sexual Violence and Public Health," The Review of Economic Studies, Review of Economic Studies Ltd, vol. 85(3), pages 1683-1715.
    10. Arunachalam Raj & Shah Manisha, 2012. "The Prostitute's Allure: The Return to Beauty in Commercial Sex Work," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 12(1), pages 1-27, December.
    11. Samuel Lee & Petra Persson, 2012. "Human Trafficking and Regulating Prostitution," Working Papers 12-07, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, Department of Economics.
    12. Troy Quast & Fidel Gonzalez, 2017. "Sex Work Regulation and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Tijuana, Mexico," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 26(5), pages 656-670, May.
    13. Lakdawala, Leah K. & Martínez Heredia, Diana & Vera-Cossio, Diego A., 2023. "The Impact of Expanding Worker Rights to Informal Workers Evidence from Child Labor Legislation," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 12705, Inter-American Development Bank.
    14. Raj Arunachalam & Manisha Shah, 2013. "Compensated for Life: Sex Work and Disease Risk," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 48(2), pages 345-369.
    15. Andreas Lindenblatt & Peter Egger, 2017. "The long shadow of the Iron Curtain for female sex workers in German cities: Border effects and regional differences," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 54(3), pages 649-677, February.
    16. Carole Treibich & Aurélia Lépine, 2019. "Estimating misreporting in condom use and its determinants among sex workers: Evidence from the list randomisation method," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 28(1), pages 144-160, January.
    17. Rocío Albert & Fernando Gómez & Yanna Gutierrez Franco, 2007. "Regulating Prostitution: A Comparative Law and Economics Approach," Working Papers 2007-30, FEDEA.
    18. Peter T. Leeson & Henry A. Thompson, 2023. "Public choice and public health," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 195(1), pages 5-41, April.
    19. Cunningham, Scott & Kendall, Todd D., 2011. "Prostitution 2.0: The changing face of sex work," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(3), pages 273-287, May.

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