This is a common argument against the legalization of prostitution, and I'm curious if there's any truth to the claim that human trafficking actually increase when prostitution is made legal.

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    I've also heard claims that legalizing prostitution lead to an increase, rather than a decrease, in the absolute amount of illegal prostitution.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 22:53
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    +1 for Andrew. If you define human trafficking to also include consensual trafficked where women do want to be prostitute for bigger income, then obviously yes. I think legalization of prostitution should decrease forced prostitution and women trafficking. It's just economic common sense
    – user4951
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 8:09
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    It does increase consensual trafficking. Just like legalization of programming will increase the number immigrants coming to US to make programs. What's wrong with that?
    – user4951
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 9:53
  • @JimThio Trafficking is, by definition, illegal, so no, immigrants coming to a country to work as a prostitute wouldn't count.
    – Andy
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 23:50

3 Answers 3

  1. The claim makes absolutely no sense. Source: Economics 101. If you decrease the cost of being a prostitute (e.g. no more danger of arrest), you increase the supply of prostitutes. The reason for trafficking is that - given the payoff - not enough people want the job voluntarily, so you need to being in involuntary (slave) labor. Increasing the supply due to legalization removes that need. Please note that legalizing prostitution STILL keeps both trafficking and child exploitation laws in place.

  2. Moreover, looks like there's absolutely no proof (despite major allegations by interested parties) that the center of legalized prostitution in the USA (e.g. Nevada) has a big trafficking problem.

    From http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2007/jan/29/do-we-have-a-human-trafficking-problem/ :

    Terri Miller, ATLAS's civilian director and long one of the top Nevada activists against the sexual exploitation of women and children, and her boss, Metro Capt. Terry Lesney, say the need for the group is clear: There is a "huge" and growing sex-oriented trafficking problem in Las Vegas.

    Yet they quickly add that no statistics have ever been gathered and law enforcers never before have made it a top priority - so the scope of the problem still needs to be determined.

    ... The task force's first task was to determine whether, in fact, there was a human-trafficking problem, Lesney says. But because of the lack of hard data, she says, "we were struggling to quantify what we're dealing with."

    ... The largest human trafficking bust in the area in recent years was Operation Jade Blade. A national sting in 2000 netted five Las Vegas Valley residents, who were arrested for trafficking Asian prostitutes into the city. The women had been smuggled into the country for a fee, then were forced to pay back their debt by working as prostitutes.

    Editorial note here - this is the LARGEST bust - and it's not, strictly speaking, about trafficking. The women came to the USA voluntarily. The crime was in forcing them to pay, and it has nothing to do with prostitution - the same exact problem exists/existed with Asians being smuggled all over the country and forced to work off their fees in sweatshops, often textile related.

    So, not only are the provable trafficking numbers WAY low (the article further details several - as in, less than 10 in several years) - there's absolutely ZERO proof on anyone's part that it's something specific to Las Vegas or has any correlation - never mind causation - with legalized prostitution. Remember, these are the people who are in CHARGE of fixing the supposed problem.

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    The crime you are describing is called trafficking. And in this case it is connected to prostitution (though whether the connection is causal remains to be seen). Commented May 24, 2011 at 8:10
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    @Konrad - that's just semantics games, sorry. Whatever the legal definition, an implication made by people who don't like prostitution is that the prostitutes are forcibly dragged into the trade and would not have been if it was illegal. Both of which as pure BS - as noted, even the biggest bust involved people voluntarily coming to US, and a vast majority of such cases nationwide are not involved in sex trade, legal or illegal.
    – user5341
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 9:55
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    @DVK It’s not semantics. The question is whether there is any force involved, and to what extent people involved have free will. If they are forced to work as prostitutes then this is trafficking by any common definition of the term (and agreed, there are many). I agree with your overall conclusion but there are more ways of trafficking than just plain kidnapping people. Commented May 24, 2011 at 11:05
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    "Don't trust economics 101." -Behavioral economics
    – Borror0
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 14:02
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    @DVK: Netherlands - where prostitution is legal - is a top destination for victims of human trafficking according to the UN. There may be problems with those statics, too, (and feel free to demolish them, if there are) but you cannot dismiss the claim as easily as you have.
    – Borror0
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 14:26

Germany changed their laws in 2002, making prostitution equal to any job, so you have to pay taxes and get social security etc. There is no indication this increased the amount of trafficking. But then again prostitution was semi-legal already before 2002.

Ref: http://research.icmpd.org/1465.html

Sweden criminalized prostitution in 1999. One of the stated arguments was lowering trafficking. Unfortunately there was no statistics available before 2003 (see above ref), so we don't know if it has increased or decreased.

So there is no data to say either way.


Due to the failure of Nevada to collect hard data in the past, the State Department commission Dr. Melissa Farley to study prostitution and trafficking in Nevada and compile an empirical report. The results were far worse than most would have anticipated.

"Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada" addresses the scope of the sex industry in Nevada, including human rights violations against women in the Nevada legal brothels. The book describes how the multibillion-dollar illegal sex industry in Las Vegas works. Sex trafficking from within and outside of the US, advertising for prostitution, political corruption, pornography, organized crime and the constant demand of men for paid sex - all contribute to prostitution and trafficking in Nevada.

Legalization of prostitution in Nevada, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands has resulted in an increase in illegal, hidden, and street prostitution. Decriminalization and legalization promote sex trafficking. Germany and the Netherlands are currently reconsidering whether to get rid of legal prostitution because of these social problems.

Myths & Facts About Nevada Legal Prostitution

Also read the fact sheet here.:



Maybe you should refrain from making such a judgment until you read the report (which actually turned into a book) that is full of well-documented, scientifically-gathered, verifiable and replicatable data.

You might not be of the opinion it is credible, but John Miller, (Research Professor of International Affairs, George Washington University; Ambassador at Large on Modern Day Slavery 2004-2006; Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State 2002-2006; Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking) is an expert at both research and the topic of trafficking, and he called it a must read.

"Finally, here's a book about sex slavery not just in distant lands but in Nevada, USA. If you've wanted to know what really goes on in the sex industry in Las Vegas and nearby Nevada counties, this is an unpleasant but must read."


Here's a study published in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism.


Check the references - those below are just a snippet.

Sexual violence and physical assault are the norm for women in all types of prostitution. One Canadian observer noted that ninety-nine percent of women in prostitution were victims of violence, with more frequent injuries “than workers in [those] occupations considered . . . most dangerous, like mining, forestry, and firefighting.”20 Prostituted women in Glasgow said that violence from customers was their primary fear.21 Physical abuse was considered part of the job of prostitution, with the payment sometimes determined by each individual blow of a beating or whipping.22

Violence is commonplace in prostitution whether it is legal or illegal.23 Eighty-five percent of prostituted women interviewed in Minneapolis-St. Paul had been raped in prostitution.24 Another study found that eighty percent of women who had been domestically or transnationally trafficked suffered violence-related injuries.25 Of 854 people in prostitution in nine countries, eighty-nine percent wanted to leave prostitution but did not have other options for survival.26 Researchers have found that two factors are consistently associated with greater violence in prostitution: poverty and length of time in prostitution. The more customers serviced, the more women reported severe physical symptoms.27 The longer women remained in prostitution, the higher their rates of sexually transmitted diseases.28 When prostitution is assumed to be a reasonable “job option,” women’s intense longing to escape it is made invisible.29

From policyinnovations.org you can find this:

"According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the average age of death of prostitutes is 34. In the United States, the rate at which prostitutes are killed in the workplace is 51 times that of the next most dangerous occupation for women, working in a liquor store. Other studies show that nine out of ten prostitutes urgently want to escape the job. Almost half have attempted suicide at least once."

And much more. There is research available.

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    Could you please add a proper reference to Melissa Farley’s study? Furthermore, the distinct claims also need sourcing, e.g. the fact that in Germany, Australia and the Netherlands there was an increase in illegal street prostitution, that this was a result of the decriminalisation and that as a result there are serious considerations to illegalise it. I live in Germany and I’ve never heard of either of these claims. The website you cite contains one source which mentions “Germany” in the abstract and this is merely a collection of cherry-picked, spiteful anecdotes without proper analysis. Commented Jul 5, 2011 at 8:37
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    Furthermore, this source also fails abysmally to follow an appropriate, objective, impartial academic style, calling its credibility into question. I’m really not sure what to make of such a “study”. Also, assertions such as “the constant demand of men for paid sex” is subjective, idle speculation and doesn’t belong here. (PS: I had almost upvoted this answer before looking at the sources.) Commented Jul 5, 2011 at 8:41
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    The "factsheet" which contains very few facts and a lot of clearly biased nonsense claims, is still available. The other links no longer works. Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 13:48
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    Melissa Farley was also, specifically, an anti-pornography and anti-prostitution activist. She may have had solid empirical reasons for being so, but, clearly, commissioning her to do this "study" was a political exercise with a 100% certain expected result. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 21:16

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