November 1, 2022
Laws governing commercial sex have been significantly researched for their impact on public health and safety. Conclusive data on violence, exploitation, and sexual health from around the world supports the following conclusions:
1. Full decriminalization of sex work supports community health and safety. A 2018 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health meta-analysis reviewed over 130 studies conducted over 30 years and discovered the following:
* Repressive policing practices around sex work were associated with increased risk of sexual and physical violence at the hands of clients, third parties, and domestic partners.
* Sex workers exposed to these policing practices were put at increased risk of infection with HIV and other STIs, and more likely to have condomless sex.
* Repressive policing of sex workers, their clients, and/or venues disrupted sex workers’ support networks, workplace safety, and risk reduction strategies.
2. Full decriminalization of sex work has reduced exploitation where and when it has been implemented.
* New Zealand passed the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) in 2003, fully decriminalizing sex work for New Zealand nationals. According to a study conducted by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), there was no evidence of human trafficking among populations where sex work had been decriminalized between 2003 and 2018. Trafficking of migrant sex workers, who are not legally permitted to work under the PRA, persists. Reformers are pushing for the law to decriminalize sex work among migrants as well.
* Rhode Island inadvertently decriminalized indoor prostitution in 1980 in an attempt to make laws governing sex work more specific. In 2003 the loophole was noticed by lawmakers and indoor sex work was re-criminalized in 2009. A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that during the six-year window, when sex workers knowingly worked under the safety of decriminalization, the number of rapes reported in Rhode Island diminished by 31 percent and the statewide incidence of gonorrhea diminished by 39 percent.
The decriminalization of sex work is supported by many notable public health organizations, including the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and the Human Rights Campaign.