Decriminalizing Indoor Prostitution: Implications for Sexual Violence and Public Health

Most governments in the world, including the United States, prohibit sex work. 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 sex work to provide causal estimates of the impact of decriminalization on the composition of the sex market, reported rape offenses, and sexually transmitted infections. While decriminalization increases the size of the indoor sex market, reported rape offenses fall by 30 percent and female gonorrhea incidence declines by over 40 percent.

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