QotD: “Once upon a time there was the naive belief that legalized prostitution would improve life for prostitutes, eliminate prostitution in areas where it remained illegal and remove organized crime from the business”

“Once upon a time,” wrote Carolyn Maloney (2007:xiii) founder and Co-Chair of the U.S. Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus, “there was the naive belief that legalized prostitution would improve life for prostitutes, eliminate prostitution in areas where it remained illegal and remove organized crime from the business. … Like all fairy tales, this turns out to be sheer fantasy.”

There is now a large body of evidence regarding the effects of legal and decriminalized prostitution. Some of that has been described in the foregoing paragraphs. Nonetheless several of the authors of these four articles quote inaccurate theories about legal prostitution’s relation to trafficking. Segrave for example, expresses the belief that legalization of prostitution will “combat trafficking” (p 5⁎) and Limoncelli (p 3⁎) suggests that the linkage between legal prostitution and trafficking might not in actuality exist.

Evidence supports the theory that legal prostitution is associated with increased trafficking. Traffickers and pimps can easily operate with impunity when prostitution is legal. A Nevada legal pimp told me in 2005 that a Russian trafficker offered to purchase his brothel. Wherever prostitution is legalized, trafficking to sex industry marketplaces in that region increases (for example to strip clubs, massage brothels, escort agencies, pornography stores, and bars). After prostitution was legalized in Germany and the Netherlands, the numbers of trafficked women increased dramatically. Today, 80% of all women in German and Dutch prostitution are trafficked.

Segrave cites Australia as a trafficking destination country. This is probably a consequence of the country’s legal prostitution which in effect functions as a legal welcome to pimps and traffickers (Sullivan, 2007). Supporting evidence also comes from Sweden. When men who buy sex are criminalized (this might be the opposite of legalization) then trafficking significantly decreases (Ekberg, 2004:1199).

Melissa Farley, 2009, Theory versus reality: Commentary on four articles about trafficking for prostitution

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