Last updated on: 2/27/2018 | Author:

Does Legal Prostitution Lead to Human Trafficking and Slavery?

PRO (yes)


Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia (CATWA), in a Feb. 2017 “Submission to the Legislative Council Select Committee on Human Trafficking in New South Wales,” available from, wrote:

“[M]odels of complete decriminalization and legalization of the sex industry increase trafficking inflows by fostering demand for the sexual exploitation of women and girls…

Legalization or decriminalization of the sex industry is often touted as a way to weed out organized crime in the industry and reduce the associated illegal trafficking inflows. However, evidence shows that legalization / decriminalization only increases flows of women trafficked into the industry and provides a legitimate front for organized crime, while at the same time reducing police oversight of the industry.”

Feb. 2017


Rachel Lloyd, MA, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) in New York, NY, stated in her Apr. 19, 2012 article titled “Legality Leads to More Trafficking”:

“The presence of an adult sex industry increases both the rates of child sexual exploitation and trafficking. It may be true that some women in commercial sex exercised some level of informed choice, had other options to entering and have no histories of familial trauma, neglect or sexual abuse. But, these women are the minority and don’t represent the overwhelming majority of women, girls, boys and transgender youth, for whom the sex industry isn’t about choice but lack of choice.

The argument that legalizing prostitution makes it safer for women just hasn’t been borne out in countries implementing full legalization. In fact, legalization has spurred traffickers to recruit children and marginalized women to meet demand. Amsterdam, long touted as the model, recently started recognizing rates of trafficking into the country have increased and is beginning to address the enormous hub of trafficking and exploitation that it’s created.”

Apr. 19, 2012


Seo-Young Cho, Assistant Professor of Empirical Institutional Economics at Philipps-University of Marburg (Germany), Axel Dreher, Professor of International and Development Politics at Heidelberg University, Germany, and Eric Neumayer, Professor of Environment and Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK, wrote in their Mar. 2013 paper for World Development titled “Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking”:

“The scale effect of legalized prostitution leads to an expansion of the prostitution market, increasing human trafficking, while the substitution effect reduces demand for trafficked women as legal prostitutes are favored over trafficked ones. Our empirical analysis for a cross-section of up to 150 countries shows that the scale effect dominates the substitution effect. On average, countries where prostitution is legal experience larger reported human trafficking inflows…”

Mar. 2013


Niklas Jakobsson, PhD, Research Fellow at Norwegian Social Research (NOVA), and Andreas Kotsadam, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oslo, Norway, stated in their Feb. 2013 study titled “The Law and Economics of International Sex Slavery: Prostitution Laws and Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation,” published in the European Journal of Law and Economics:

“Using two recent sources of European cross country data we show that trafficking of persons for commercial sexual exploitation… is least prevalent in countries where prostitution is illegal, most prevalent in countries where prostitution is legalized, and in between in those countries where prostitution is legal but procuring illegal.”

Feb. 2013


The US Department of State, in the June 2007 issue of its “Trafficking in Humans Report,” stated:

“Sex trafficking would not exist without the demand for commercial sex flourishing around the world. The U.S. Government adopted a strong position against prostitution in a December 2002 policy decision, which states that prostitution is inherently harmful and dehumanizing and fuels trafficking in persons.

Prostitution and related activities—including pimping and patronizing or maintaining brothels—encourage the growth of modern-day slavery by providing a façade behind which traffickers for sexual exploitation operate. Where prostitution is tolerated, there is a greater demand for human trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery. Few women seek out or choose to be in prostitution, and most are desperate to leave it. A 2003 scientific study in the Journal of Trauma Practice found that 89 percent of women in prostitution want to escape prostitution but had no other options for survival.”

June 2007 - Trafficking in Humans Report


Margareta Winberg, former Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, stated at the Seminar on the Effects of Legalisation of Prostitution Activities in Stockholm on Nov. 5-6, 2002:

“I believe that we will never succeed in combating trafficking in women if we do not simultaneously work to abolish prostitution and the sexual exploitation of women and children. Particularly in light of the fact that many women in prostitution in countries that have legalised prostitution are originally victims of trafficking in women.”

Nov. 5-6, 2002


Richard Poulin, PhD, Professor of Sociology at the University of Ottawa, wrote in his article titled “The Legalization of Prostitution and Its Impact on Trafficking in Women and Children,” posted Feb. 6, 2005 on

“Although there was a belief that legalization would make possible control of the sex industry, the illegal industry is now ‘out of control’. Police in Victoria [Australia] estimate that there are 400 illegal brothels as against 100 legal ones. Trafficking in women and children from other countries has increased significantly. The legalization of prostitution in some parts of Australia has thus resulted in a net growth of the industry. One of the results has been the trafficking in women and children to ‘supply’ legal and illegal brothels. The ‘sex entrepreneurs’ have difficulty recruiting women locally to supply an expanding industry, and women from trafficking are more vulnerable and more profitable.”

Feb. 6, 2005

CON (no)


Abigail R. Hall-Blanco, PhD, Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Tampa, in a Feb. 19, 2017 article for titled “Legalized Prostitution Is Safer,” wrote:

“[C]riminalizing prostitution makes sex trafficking more likely. One widely recognized consequence of prohibition is the formation of cartels, which in a black market are more likely to use violence. This violence drives some producers out of the market, leading to higher prices and large criminal enterprises with monopoly power. Instead of breaking apart sex-trafficking rings, prohibition increases their profitability, making trafficking more appealing to criminal enterprises…

After legalizing prostitution in 2003, New Zealand found ‘no incidence of human trafficking.’ Moreover, legalization made it easier for sex workers to report abuse and for police to prosecute sex crimes.”

Feb. 19, 2017


Ntokozo Yingwana, Advocacy Officer with the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) in South Africa, stated in her Apr. 17, 2012 article titled “Why Sex Work Should Be Decriminalized,” posted on the SWEAT website:

“[D]ecriminalization will bring in stronger laws to protect individuals against coerced sex work, human trafficking and sexual exploitation of minors. The key benefit of decriminalization is a vast improvement in the relationship between police and sex workers, to the point that sex workers become key information sources in attempts to uncover human trafficking. Currently, sex workers are afraid to do so, because they risk arrest.”

Apr. 17, 2012


The Bureau of the Dutch National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings, in its Mar. 2005 report “Trafficking in Human Beings – Third Report of the Dutch National Rapporteur,” stated:

“The fight against THB [trafficking in human beings] for sexual exploitation is often confused with the battle that some people wage against prostitution… [T]here are disadvantages associated with a repressive approach, since such an approach does not distinguish between victims and independent sex workers, and clients will not play a role as a potential source of information on trafficking practices…

It is often said in the media that the lifting of the general ban on brothels has led to more THB. This is not a correct conclusion. Before the lifting of the general ban on brothels, THB and other (criminal) abuses were taking place in all sectors of prostitution. Some of these sectors are now under control and can be assumed to have rid themselves of their former criminal excesses, or are doing so…It is possible that THB is increasing in the illegal, non-regulated or noncontrolled sectors. If this were to be the case, it still cannot be assumed that the extent of THB is now at the same or even above the ‘old’ level it was at before the ban on brothels was lifted. It is in fact likely that this is not the case, merely because not every client is keen to get involved in the ‘secret’ prostitution sector.”

Mar. 2005 - Trafficking in Human Beings - Third Report of the Dutch National Rapporteur


Marjan Wijers, LLM, Chair of the European Commission’s Expert Group on Trafficking in Human Beings, in the chapter “Women, Labor, and Migration: The Position of Trafficked Women and Strategies for Support” in the 1998 book Global Sex Workers: Rights, Resistance and Redefinition, wrote:

“Criminalizing the sex industry creates ideal conditions for rampant exploitation and abuse of sex workers…[I]t is believed that trafficking in women, coercion and exploitation can only be stopped if the existence of prostitution is recognized and the legal and social rights of prostitutes are guaranteed.”



The Economist, in the Sep. 2, 2004 editorial titled “Sex is Their Business,” wrote:

“Criminalisation forces prostitution into the underworld. Legalisation would bring it into the open, where abuses such as trafficking and under-age prostitution can be more easily tackled. Brothels would develop reputations worth protecting.”

Sep. 2, 2004


Rita Nakashima Brock, PhD, Founding Co-Director of the Soul Repair Center at the Brite Divinity School, is quoted in a Jan. 25, 2004 Sex Workers Outreach Project press release as stating:

“Prohibition gives cover to traffickers. It allows them to use the laws against prostitution to intimidate, especially when it comes to children. Women and girls being held against their will are afraid to go to police because they will be treated as criminals.”

Jan. 25, 2004


David A. Feingold, PhD, Coordinator of Trafficking – HIV/AIDS Programs, Culture Unit, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Bangkok, in his article “Think Again: Human Trafficking” in the Sep.-Oct. 2005 issue of Foreign Policy, wrote:

“The intersection of the highly emotive issues of sex work and human trafficking generates a lot more heat than light. Some antitrafficking activists equate ‘prostitution’ with trafficking and vice versa, despite evidence to the contrary. The U.S. government leaves no doubt as to where it stands: According to the State Department Web site, ‘Where prostitution is legalized or tolerated, there is a greater demand for human trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery.’ By this logic, the state of Nevada should be awash in foreign sex slaves, leading one to wonder what steps the Justice Department is taking to free them. Oddly, the Netherlands, Australia, and Germany–all of whom have legalized prostitution–received top marks from the Bush administration in the most recent Trafficking in Persons Report.

Moreover, some efforts to prohibit prostitution have increased sex workers’ risk to the dangers of trafficking, though largely because lawmakers neglected to consult the people the laws were designed to protect. Sweden, for example, is much praised by antiprostitution activists for a 1998 law that aimed to protect sex workers by criminalizing their customers. But several independent studies, including one conducted by the Swedish police, showed that it exposed prostitutes to more dangerous clients and less safe-sex practices.”

Sep.-Oct. 2005