Decriminalizing indoor prostitution

by on July 14, 2014 at 12:57 pm in Data Source, Economics, Law, Medicine | Permalink

There is a new NBER paper by Scott Cunningham and Manisha Shah:

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.

Alas, I do not see ungated versions on Google, or maybe try this one (pdf).

The Other Jim July 14, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Most of this is wrong.

Rhode Island accidentally decriminalized indoor prostitution in 1980, when they sought to lower the penalty but left a loophole so that if it happened indoors, it was legal.

And nobody noticed for about 20 years. In 1998 and 2003, there were court cases that forced the judges and legislatures to say “whoops.” And they set about immediately to fix it. It didn’t actually get fixed until 2009.

This is a far, far cry from “Rhode Island legalized it, and everybody knew and celebrated and partook!” Which is what you would need for any drop in STDs to be remotely interesting.

Z July 14, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Beat me to it. Then there’s the fact that prostitution is legal in a lot of countries so there’s plenty of data. You also have countries like Canada that have barely enforced prostitution laws. Vancouver had brothels operating in plain site for a long time.

Hostile Elite vs Gullible White Cattle July 14, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Jewish pimps want to turn every White country into a horhouse. this is not left vs right, GOP vs Dems, Socialism vs liberty. This is war against White people.

Why do hostile elite defend Israel as a Jewish ethnostate with Jewish only immigration, but ravage White majority Europe/North America into a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Gulag with non-White colonization?

The world is 93% non-White, only 7% White. But 3rd world colonizers, Muslims, Hispanics, Asians, are aggressively advancing their agenda to annihilate gullible Whites, just as China annihilates Tibet.

How long will gullible Whites cuckold for murderous anti-White elite, who suppress our fertility, confiscate our guns, infiltrate/subvert our banks/FBI/CIA, indoctrinate White kids in academia/mass media, plunder White jobs/wages, & butcher White soldiers in bankrupting wars?

“Native” Americans invaded from East Asia. Yellow & Brown races committed 10-times more genocide, slavery, imperialism than Whites. Since Moses, Whites have been victims of Jewish/Crypto-Jewish, Muslim, N.African imperialism, slavery, genocide.

Gullible Whites should reject subversive ideologies- libertarianism, feminism, liberalism- & hostile slanders of racism. Peace to all humanity, but White people must organize to advance their interests, their fertility, their homelands. Spread this message. Reading list: http://goo.gl/iB777 , http://goo.gl/htyeq , http://amazon.com/dp/0759672229 , http://amazon.com/dp/1410792617

fallibilist July 15, 2014 at 7:08 am

Would it be unkind to ask you to provide your evidence to warrant the claim about Jewish pimps and their nefarious plans?

Clover July 14, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Your numbers are wrong. If Whites were 7 percent of the world’s population than 7 billion * 7% = 490 million, less than the total population of Europe alone.

scott cunningham July 14, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Rhode Island accidentally decriminalized indoor prostitution in 1980, when they sought to lower the penalty but left a loophole so that if it happened indoors, it was legal.
And nobody noticed for about 20 years. In 1998 and 2003, there were court cases that forced the judges and legislatures to say “whoops.” And they set about immediately to fix it. It didn’t actually get fixed until 2009.

There’s actually no evidence that the 1998 court cases caused anyone to become aware of it. The 1998 Supreme Court case vs. DeMagistris concerned an amateur pornographer who was charged with, among other things, the state’s loitering statute. They ruled that he was not guilty of that because he had not engaged in street prostitution, but from 1998 until 2003, police were still arresting massage parlor employees for loitering. Going through Lexis Nexus, there’s no mention of any of this until 2005 in fact — Breton writes an article for the newspaper in which police and others offer detailed explanations of what happened. But until the case that goes before Bucci in 2003, I can’t even find legal scholarship noting any evidence of the implications of the 1980 law change, or the 1998 Supreme Court case decision. For instance, Richard Posner’s book on America’s sex laws has an entire chapter on American prostitution laws by state, and makes no mention that in fact Rhode Island had legalized indoor (non-street) prostitution. It appears as best we can tell that the 2003 District Court case caused law enforcement to reduce arrests of indoor sex workers. That is both explicitly what the Chief of Police says, and we also show some evidence for it in our analysis of prostitution arrests. I think we also show evidence for the relevance of the 2003 District Court decision in our analysis of the number of massage parlor firms advertising in the erotic services section of the Providence Phoenix, as well as in our analysis of The Erotic Review data. The entire analysis that we present — based on detailed archival research, interviews with people involved in this (fascinating) episode, and quantitative analysis — suggests very much that the 2003 decision absolutely caused a rightward shift in the supply of indoor sex work in the state. It’s evidenced by the marginal entrants after 2003 being women who provided massages and Asian — these were the defendants in the case, they were incumbents in the market.

This is a far, far cry from “Rhode Island legalized it, and everybody knew and celebrated and partook!” Which is what you would need for any drop in STDs to be remotely interesting.

I don’t see how anyone who reads the paper would remotely draw that conclusion. The paper goes to great lengths to as efficiently as we can document exactly what happened. It is a complicated set of events, but the facts seem to be essentially the following: the legislature did inadvertently legalize indoor sex work in 1980 by changing the loitering statute and augmenting other statutes. That went basically unnoticed, though not entirely. The 1998 Supreme Court case against DeMagistris was instrumental in the defense’s case in 2003, but regardless, from 1998 to 2003, police still arrest the indoor sex workers for loitering. And Judge Elaine Bucci’s decision in 2003 seemed to exogenously reduce the enforcement effort of police aimed at indoor sex workers. All of that analysis is backed up in detail, and you’ll have to read it carefully to see if you think otherwise, but feel free to email me if you have questions.

prior_approval July 14, 2014 at 1:17 pm

‘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.’

Well, except for those places which have a couple of decades experience in that area – like Australia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_Australia#Contemporary_scene_to_late-20th_century_-

Or places like Germany, where a dozen years ago, prostitution was declared to be a legitimate business branch, and not merely legal – with little apparent change in the framework that prostitutes exist in – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_Germany#Legislative_reform_.282002.29

scott cunningham July 14, 2014 at 1:47 pm

‘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.’
Well, except for those places which have a couple of decades experience in that area – like Australia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_Australia#Contemporary_scene_to_late-20th_century_-
Or places like Germany, where a dozen years ago, prostitution was declared to be a legitimate business branch, and not merely legal – with little apparent change in the framework that prostitutes exist in –

Which is precisely why we said “rare”. Most countries do not change these laws. And when they do, we should be concerned about policy endogeneity. The uniqueness of the Rhode Island case is not merely that the law changed, but that it changed exogenously. It did not change because of demographic shocks, shifting values, political opportunities, or even some public health events. Bucci agreed with the defense that the sex workers in the Asian massage parlors had not committed a crime, because the state of Rhode Island had no laws prohibiting commercial sex exchanges. They only had laws prohibiting particular intermediaries — street prostitution, and pandering (pimping), and probably the running of a brothel.

prior_approval July 14, 2014 at 2:21 pm

‘Which is precisely why we said “rare”. ‘

These people beg to differ about that ‘rare’ – ’100 Countries and Their Prostitution Policies – Legal in 50 (50%); Limited Legality in 11 (11%); Illegal in 39 (39%); Total: 100 (100%)’ http://prostitution.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000772

But hey, that was the second link for the google search terms – ‘prostitution legalization nations’

And the third link is a bit more broad based, and truly, the number of countries where prostition is legal or legally tolerated is below 50% –
‘Prostitution is engaging in sexual activity with another person in exchange for compensation, such as money or other valuable goods.

* Number of countries prostitution is Illegal: 109

* Number of countries prostitution is restricted: 11

* Number of countries prostitution is Legal: 77

* Number of countries with No laws for prostitution: 5′

http://chartsbin.com/view/snb

Australia provides a fine example with regional differences, and Germany’s experience in making prostitution a profession within a legal business framework (pension claims, enforceable contracts) is a further step in looking at the changes brought about by something considerably beyond decriminalization.

‘The uniqueness of the Rhode Island case is not merely that the law changed, but that it changed exogenously. It did not change because of demographic shocks, shifting values, political opportunities, or even some public health events.’

You mean like how birth control became legal in the U.S.? Because really, trying to argue that there is something truly unique about a court case seems special pleading. Here is a recent article, the first result of the google search terms ‘prostitution legalization court case’ –

‘Andrew Coyne: Supreme Court ruling not about legalizing prostitution but making life safer for prostitutes

The striking thing about the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford is not how radical it is, but how reasonable. Which is perhaps to say how unreasonable the laws it has struck down were and are. How then could they have remained on the books all these years? Why did it take the courts, rather than the legislature, to right this wrong?’ http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/12/20/andrew-coyne-supreme-court-ruling-not-about-legalizing-prostitution-but-making-life-safer-for-prostitutes/

scott cunningham July 14, 2014 at 3:10 pm

I don’t see anything in your post documenting the frequency with which countries experiment with prostitution reform. That’s the point being made here. We wrote “Given these types of laws rarely change” — that’s the point I am making. Countries rarely experiment with prostitution reform. And, where there is variation, given the repugnance associated with prostitution for many voters, if we are worried about policy endogeneity, it could be a problem. What makes the RI 2003 decision unusual is that reform occurred for a state, and that reform led to exogenous reductions in police enforcement. The paper goes to great lengths to explain this, so beyond that I have little to say.

collin July 14, 2014 at 1:36 pm

The data looks a lot the impact of legalizing marijuana in Denver which has shown a decrease in crime rates in the city but in reality the drop is little to do with legalizing marijuana. In all reality, these decreases are small enough that the reduction of crime and trasmitted disease are likely coming from other causes than the legalization.

That said like Denver, it does give legalization supporters more evidence that these activities will not increase crime rates.

scott cunningham July 14, 2014 at 1:50 pm

The data looks a lot the impact of legalizing marijuana in Denver which has shown a decrease in crime rates in the city but in reality the drop is little to do with legalizing marijuana. In all reality, these decreases are small enough that the reduction of crime and trasmitted disease are likely coming from other causes than the legalization.
That said like Denver, it does give legalization supporters more evidence that these activities will not increase crime rates.

No, it’s actually not like that. The declines in crime reported in Colorado following legalization are time series declines comparing 6-month values now to 6-month values last year.

This paper is considerably different. We use both linear and synthetic control differences-in-differences model which uses comparison states for analysis. The synthetic control model in particular is quite demanding (if you’ve never worked with it, trust me it is) because we are able to find a set of states that actually look very much like Rhode Island for rapes over a very long pretreatment time series (several decades), and for several years for gonorrhea as well. The decline that is observed is not explained by reversion to the mean. This is more than just time series analysis.

Rahul July 14, 2014 at 3:15 pm

I am waiting for someone to complain these authors are not qualified to comment because they were never prostitutes themselves.

dearieme July 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm

They’re economists, though, which might be close.

msgkings July 14, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Zing!

Andrew' July 14, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Let’s not quibble over price.

Mark Thorson July 14, 2014 at 10:20 pm

Perhaps they were customers.

And by the way, is this a specialty? Can someone make a career researching prostitution? In the name of science, of course.

Rahul July 15, 2014 at 12:19 am

I’m sure this has been done. Bet you’ll find social scientists that advertise themselves as experts on prostitution. Or maybe they call it “human trafficking”

Frederic Bush July 14, 2014 at 11:19 pm

I am very skeptical of the magnitude of the apparent effect. If legal prostitution reduced VD and rape by >30%, wouldn’t that be apparent in other societies which have legalized prostitution?

zz July 15, 2014 at 10:17 am

+1 This paper doesn’t pass the smell test

Who ha July 16, 2014 at 4:32 am

How do you run a smell test?

And why are anyone’s priors informative on this question? Its not as thoigh there are other studies on this that one can use to reliably compare these findings is there?

Douglas Knight July 16, 2014 at 12:15 am

Yes, it is apparent from the two countries to ban prostitution: America and Scandinavia.

Dan Lavatan July 15, 2014 at 1:25 am

It might be worth conducting a demographic study, say be comparing counties demographically similar to the rural Nevada counties. That said, I don’t know any US state the seriously enforces prostitution laws, and I’m frankly surprised any country could empanel a jury that would convict someone of such an offense.

Anonymous July 15, 2014 at 6:15 am

It is annoying that the prohibition itself is not seen as a form of violence against the person and their physical self-ownership.

Who cares if STDs go up or down if millions of people are prohibited from engaging in their basic human right to freely choose with whom they have sex and for what incentives?

As long as the sex is consensual, it must be legal. Otherwise the state itself becomes a kind of rapist, an (anti-)sexual aggressor.

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