The criminalization of prostitution has always been an anomaly in the law when compared to sex on camera for the adult entertainment industry. Libertarians question why consenting adults should not be able to agree to such arrangements since they can have as many lovers for free as a form of protected conduct. For those who have argued for legalization of prostitution, a recent study by Baylor University’s Scott Cunningham and Manisha Shah of the University of California, Los Angeles may give them something of a boost. The study found that, for the years when prostitution was effectively legal in Rhode Island (but not street walking), both public health and public safety substantially improved with a drop in rape and a drop in the rate of gonorrhea among women.
The study appears to contradict the claim among some advocates that prostitutes (as well as pornography) fuels violence against women.
The two researchers found that the statewide incidence of gonorrhea among women declined by 39 percent, and the number of rapes reported to police in the state declined by 31 percent. Those are very significant statistical drops.
The effective legalization of prostitution occurred unintentionally as the result of an effort to tailor state laws in 1980 to avoid first amendment issues. The legislators however accidentally removed a section that defines the act as a crime and years later a court ruled that prostitution was not per se a crime under the law. However, other activities, such as streetwalking, pimping and trafficking, remained illegal. Ironically, the error resulted in precisely what many have argued as an ideal reform — banning pimping, streetwalking, and trafficking while allowing indoors prostitution that can be regulated and safely managed. Legalization advocates insist that such businesses have the ability to vet customers and monitor the situation to avoid many of the problems associated with prostitution.
Shah and Cunningham estimated that decriminalizing prostitution prevented 824 rapes that would have been otherwise reported to police. They were so surprised by the results that they decided to re-examine their data with three different statistical methods.
Feminists have already attacked the study and said that prostitution itself should be viewed as rape. Melissa Farley, a feminist psychologist, insisted that “Women in prostitution generally describe it as paid rape. That’s what if feels like to them.” However, advocates of legalization would argue that regulating the industry would help guarantee that this work is done consensually and they point to a large group of sex workers who have argued for such legalization.
Ronald Weitzer, a sociologist at George Washington University, also pointed out that legal prostitution would reduce the financial incentive for organized crime since “When something is prohibited, it allows organized crime to gain a foothold.” He cites European studies showing success with legalization of prostitution on these different issues.
An interesting study in an equally interesting area of debate.
Source: Washington Post