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Decriminalizing Indoor Prostitution: Implications for Sexual Violence and Public Health

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  • Scott Cunningham
  • Manisha Shah

Abstract

Most governments in the world including the United States prohibit prostitution. Given these types of laws rarely change and are fairly uniform across regions, our knowledge about the impact of decriminalizing sex work is largely conjectural. We exploit the fact that a Rhode Island District Court judge unexpectedly decriminalized indoor prostitution in 2003 to provide the first causal estimates of the impact of decriminalization on the composition of the sex market, rape offenses, and sexually transmitted infection outcomes. Not surprisingly, we find that decriminalization increased the size of the indoor market. However, we also find 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) and 1,035 fewer cases of female gonorrhea (39 percent decrease) from 2004 to 2009.

Suggested Citation

  • Scott Cunningham & Manisha Shah, 2014. "Decriminalizing Indoor Prostitution: Implications for Sexual Violence and Public Health," NBER Working Papers 20281, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20281
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    1. Mirko Draca & Stephen Machin & Robert Witt, 2011. "Panic on the Streets of London: Police, Crime, and the July 2005 Terror Attacks," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(5), pages 2157-2181, August.
    2. 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.
    3. Cho, Seo-Young & Dreher, Axel & Neumayer, Eric, 2013. "Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 67-82.
    4. Marina Giusta & Maria Tommaso & Steinar Strøm, 2009. "Who is watching? The market for prostitution services," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 22(2), pages 501-516, April.
    5. Abadie, Alberto & Diamond, Alexis & Hainmueller, Jens, 2010. "Synthetic Control Methods for Comparative Case Studies: Estimating the Effect of California’s Tobacco Control Program," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 105(490), pages 493-505.
    6. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:bla:scotjp:v:65:y:2018:i:5:p:528-549 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Elias, Julio & Lacetera, Nicola & Macis, Mario, 2016. "Efficiency-Morality Trade-Offs in Repugnant Transactions: A Choice Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 10187, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. Seo-Young Cho, 2015. "Does Prostitution Constrain Sex Crimes? Micro-evidence from Korea," MAGKS Papers on Economics 201521, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Faculty of Business Administration and Economics, Department of Economics (Volkswirtschaftliche Abteilung).
    4. Julio J. Elías & Nicola Lacetera & Mario Macis & Paola Salardi, 2017. "Economic Development and the Regulation of Morally Contentious Activities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(5), pages 76-80, May.
    5. 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.
    6. Julio J. Elias & Nicola Lacetera & Mario Macis, 2015. "Sacred Values? The Effect of Information on Attitudes toward Payments for Human Organs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(5), pages 361-365, May.
    7. David Powell, 2016. "Synthetic Control Estimation Beyond Case Studies Does the Minimum Wage Reduce Employment?," Working Papers WR-1142, RAND Corporation.
    8. Daniel S. Grossman & David J.G. Slutsky, 2017. "The Effect of an Increase in Lead in the Water System on Fertility and Birth Outcomes: The Case of Flint, Michigan," Working Papers 17-25, Department of Economics, West Virginia University.
    9. Wilson, Nicholas, 2017. "The World’s Oldest Profession? Employment-Age Profiles from the Transactional Sex Market," GLO Discussion Paper Series 77, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    10. Catherine Hakim, 2015. "Economies of Desire: Sexuality and the Sex Industry in the 21st Century," Economic Affairs, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 35(3), pages 329-348, October.
    11. repec:eee:chieco:v:53:y:2019:i:c:p:271-289 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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