Decriminalizing Indoor Prostitution: Implications for Sexual Violence and Public Health
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.
We would like to thank Alberto Abadie, Lynn Arditi, Sandra Black, Jen Hainmueller, Mark Hoekstra, Mireille Jacobsen, Rob Jensen, Michael Kiselica, Trevon Logan, Paco Martorell, Roland Merchant, Justin McCrary, Charles North, Gerald Oettinger, Emily Owens, and Van Pham for helpful comments. Seminar participants at the NBER Summer Institute, IZA Economics of Risky Behaviors conference, University of Chicago Crime Lab Conference, Texas STATA Microeconomics conference, SoCCAM, and RAND also provided valuable feedback. For questions or comments please contact Scott Cunningham at Scott_ Cunningham@baylor.edu and Manisha Shah at ManishaShah@ucla.edu. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Scott Cunningham & Manisha Shah, 2018. "Decriminalizing Indoor Prostitution: Implications for Sexual Violence and Public Health," The Review of Economic Studies, vol 85(3), pages 1683-1715. citation courtesy of