What impact did legalizing prostitution have on other crimes?

Obviously one doesn't want to make much of what happens in one state with a one time experiment, but the drop in rape rates there are at least suggestive. The graph above at least suggests that the rape rates fell in Rhode Island relative to the rest of the US after prostitution was legalized in 2003 (I wish that I could find exactly when in 2003 this happened).

All forms of prostitution were illegal in the state until 1980, when legislators -- while amending the existing law to speed up prosecution -- inadvertently deleted the section that addressed the actual act of prostitution. The result was that the only thing that remained illegal was street solicitation, since police mostly use anti-loitering laws to arrest streetwalkers.

This legal loophole went unnoticed and police weren't thwarted until 2003, when Providence lawyer Michael Kiselica was representing sex workers in a case before the state district court here. He acknowledged to a Providence city prosecutor that the women had offered sex for money to undercover police but asserted no state law was broken. The case was dismissed.

State legislators have tried to restore the law for years, but fell short in the face of opposition by some lawmakers, civil libertarians and academics, who said that allowing the arrest of prostitutes could end up punishing victims of human trafficking. . . .

The new momentum is partly a response to the so-called Craigslist killing. Medical student Philip Markoff was indicted in Massachusetts in June on charges of killing a woman at an upscale Boston hotel who had advertised on the "exotic services" section of Craigslist. Rhode Island officials also charged Mr. Markoff with assault and intent to commit robbery of a stripper he had arranged to meet at a hotel in the state. . . . .

The rape rate also fell faster than either the violent or property crime rates in Rhode Island, though the effect is much more obvious compared to violent crime. With property crime there was already a similar downward trend before the change up to 2002.



Blogger se7en said...

This is interesting.

I struggle agreeing with the legalization of prostitution, because it's so morally reprehensible, and I fear the negative effects of legalization will be greater than the effects from keeping it illegal.

There's no evidence to those effects though, I guess. Not sure what I feel about it.

9/06/2009 2:56 PM  
Blogger Chas said...

Scaling back government oppression dramatically reduces rape? That should make the Marxist/feminist's heads spin! On the one hand they're bent on marching us towards Marxist totalitarianism; on the other hand they become apoplectic at the thought of rape. It seems that freedom will give them what they want, but they don't want freedom. Should be some interesting cognitive dissonance. The convoluted and outlandish, mental gymnastics required to address the issue should be amusing. Watch out for exploding feminist heads!

9/07/2009 11:22 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Try thinking of legalizing prostitution in terms of the law, not the act. Prostitution is demoralizing and destructive for the women who do it, there's no argument there. But does the law that prohibits it do anyone any good? Is a police record and jail time not destructive as well? What have we gained? Isn't possible we could teach that prostitution is wrong at home and in the church, and let the law seek practical outcomes instead of moral ones?

Like drug use, I think this is an area where legalization and regulation would have a better outcome than prohibition and punishment.

I'm not sure frequency of rape is something we should be looking at here though. Suppose limiting TV, movie and magazine content would reduce the frequency of rape? Is that a good argument for censorship? Do we want women to wear burkas? Must prostitutes absorb male aggression to protect other women? Men have to control themselves or pay for it in court.

9/07/2009 1:13 PM  
Blogger John A said...

For a start, prostitutes - and their customers - on the streets are far more vulnerable than in brothels or even hotel lobbies and bars.

And that's without the protections of legalisation, which would at the very least make it somewhat less necessary to have "protection" in the form of a violent profiteering thug who might cover fines and such, if not "minor" visits to the hospital...

9/07/2009 1:17 PM  
Blogger Agagooga said...

Rhode Island banned it again in 2009. Then what happened?

4/05/2011 6:13 AM  

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