Does legalizing prostitution change rape rates?: Some evidence from Sweden and Germany
HOW modern and liberated Germany’s Social Democrats and Greens sounded in 2001. They were in government and wanted to raise the legal and social status of prostitutes. So they enacted a law to remove the stigma from sex work by, for example, giving prostitutes full rights to health insurance, pensions and other benefits. “Exploiting” sex workers remained criminal, but merely employing them or providing them with a venue became legal. The idea was that responsible employers running safe and clean brothels would drive pimps out of the market.
Germany thus embarked on an experiment in liberalisation just as Sweden, a country culturally similar in many ways, was going in the opposite direction. In 1999 the Swedes had made it criminal to pay for sex (pimping was already a crime). By stigmatising not the prostitutes but the men who paid them, even putting them in jail, the Swedes hoped to come close to eliminating prostitution. . . .
Prostitution seems to have declined in Sweden (unless it has merely gone deep underground), whereas Germany has turned into a giant brothel and even a destination for European sex tourism. The best guess is that Germany has about 400,000 prostitutes catering to 1m men a day. Mocking the spirit of the 2001 law, exactly 44 of them, including four men, have registered for welfare benefits. . . .This provides an interesting opportunity to test to see if making it easier or harder for prostitution impacts rape rates. I have only spent a short amount of time on putting some data together, but the results depend on how crime is measured. If it is measured in terms of crimes reported to police, crimes are falling in Germany after their change and rising in Sweden (though the data that I have is only available after 2003).
Regarding the Survey data, the results are much less clear, but seem to suggest no difference. Obviously this is only very suggestive and very incomplete since the data for Germany leaves a large gap between 1985-1989 and the 2001 to 2005 period. In addition, nothing else has been controlled for in examining these numbers.
Rape Rate per 100,000 population - rates reported to police
Sexual Crime Incidents from the EU Crime Victimization Survey Table B2.2 (pp. 106-107)
Sweden in the five years before
Germany in the five years beforeThe Economist had this interesting explanation for why the two countries made such different decisions.
Both the Swedish and the German laws originated in the feminist and left-leaning movements in these countries. But whereas progressive Swedes view their state as able to set positive goals, Germans (the Greens, especially) mistrust the state on questions of personal morality as a hypocritical and authoritarian threat to self-expression. . . .