Crimes Against Morality: Unintended Consequences of Criminalizing Sex Work
We examine the impact of criminalizing sex work, exploiting an event in which local officials unexpectedly criminalized sex work in one district in East Java, Indonesia, but not in neighboring districts. We collect data from female sex workers and their clients before and after the change. We find that criminalization increases sexually transmitted infections among female sex workers by 58 percent, measured by biological tests. This is driven by decreased condom access and use. We also find evidence that criminalization decreases earnings among women who left sex work due to criminalization, and decreases their ability to meet their children's school expenses while increasing the likelihood that children begin working to supplement household income. While criminalization has the potential to improve population STI outcomes if the market shrinks permanently, we show that five years post-criminalization the market has rebounded and the probability of STI transmission within the general population is likely to have increased.
We would like to thank participants at Dartmouth, CU Denver, George Washington University, LSE, Princeton, PUC-Rio, UC Irvine, USC, University of Virginia, Australian National University, UNSW, and APPAM for their valuable comments and feedback, as well as Gabriela Rubio for excellent research assistance. We gratefully acknowledge funding for this project from the Australian Research Council and Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab Southeast Asia (J-PAL SEA). Shah's work was also supported by the Center for HIV Identification, Prevention, and Treatment (CHIPTS) NIMH grant P30 MH058107-21. Data for this project was collected in partnership with SurveyMETER who we thank for their many invaluable suggestions in the field. For questions or comments please contact 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.
Lisa Cameron & Jennifer Seager & Manisha Shah, 2020. "Crimes Against Morality: Unintended Consequences of Criminalizing Sex Work*," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol 136(1), pages 427-469. citation courtesy of