Will the Legalization of Prostitution Provide a Solution to Increasing Rapes?

Legalizing prostitution is in itself a contentious topic of debate. Whether it would positively impact crime statistics in reducing the incidences of rapes is more of a hypothetical question, backed by meager evidence.
OpinionFront Staff
Last Updated: Dec 21, 2017
Did You Know?
In the Netherlands, sex workers are known to even visit schools to talk about their profession as a job alternative.
It is true that our overall understanding about sensitive issues like prostitution and sexual crimes is more hypothetical and conjectural. It is thus difficult to ascertain how decriminalizing of sex work can impact the frequency of sexual violence in a society.

Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, the capital city of Netherlands. Although it is prohibited in the United States, the state of Rhode Island has witnessed a different story. A District court judge in Rhode Island happened to decriminalize prostitution in 2003. And, according to a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the instance of forcible rapes decreased (by 31%), although the internal sex market reported growth. Also, the incidence of female gonorrhea (venereal disease) reduced by 39%.

Paying for sex was legal in Northern Ireland until October 2004, when a bill introduced a ban on it. Prostitutes there demand it to be decriminalized, and feel that they will be at a higher risk after the ban.
Would Legalizing Prostitution Reduce Rapes?
The question may sound redundant in the first place to all rational minds, and rightly so. That rapes would decrease, is given as one of the arguments in favor of legalizing prostitution, however hard it may seem to believe. It has certainly been a strong point in debates though. Every country has a different stance on it, but largely, the act of prostitution is considered completely illegal across the world.

What if the laws of the land permit prostitution to be a legal activity, like a business? Some have indeed legalized it. However, considering its impact on sexual crime, opinion polls give a clear indication that people are not convinced with the fact that legalizing prostitution would reduce the instance of rapes. Many have mentioned prostitution and rape to be totally different from each other, and not having any relative implications. Some, however, emphasize on the element of force and consent, which is believed to differentiate between the act of paying for sex and sexual violence like rape.

Nonetheless, there have been findings in support of legalization, perceived to be a solution to increasing crime rates. The Independent Institute's working paper on Prostitution and Sex Crimes by Kirby R. Cundiff states that, "It is estimated that if prostitution were legalized in the United States, the rape rate would decrease by roughly 25% for a decrease of approximately 25,000 rapes per year." This particular study bases its inference on the understanding that, rape is caused, at least in part, by the lack of other available sexual outlets. Let alone the statistics, arguing for legalization to reduce the occurrences of sexual crime is in a way immoral too. It legalizes the notion that a part of the female population in brothels, safeguards the rest.

Another important aspect revisiting the difference in the two acts pertains to how every country (and the sociocultural milieu) views prostitution; and how critically the law defines the act of rape. In countries of Venezuela, El Salvador, and Paraguay, the penalty for rape is reduced by one-fifth if the victim is found to be a prostitute. Such laws exemplify sheer discrimination against prostitutes, worsening the scenario. On the contrary, some argue prostitution to be an act of human rights violation or gender-based violence, despite it being consensual.

Sexual violence, or crimes involving it, are known to be coming from a different psychology. Some scholars argue that, rape is not only about fulfilling sexual desires, but it is more about the aggression, the ability of overpowering a woman, or the tendency developed within an individual due to previous experiences. Considering this psychological facet, it can be said that legalization would not help in addressing the problem of gang rapes, for instance.

Also, brothels or pimps engaged in trafficking often use force and compel women or children into sex work. Forced prostitution is thus viewed no less than a rape. This amounts to an assault, when women are exploited against the fact that they are employed in the industry. However, a legal license decriminalizes sex work as an economic activity, gives it a neutral identity, and eliminates the tainted perception about it.
Pros and Cons of Legalizing Prostitution
The legalizing of brothels and sex work has been argued upon since decades. Legislators in many countries have given it a serious thought. Here is a list of some prominent pros and cons of this eternal debate.
Favoring Legalization
- Legalizing is seen as a beneficial factor for sex workers, as it entitles them to be employed, and ensures better protection and health facilities for them. It would guarantee child care for the children of prostitutes.

- It would save children from being victimized and forced into sex work. It would give them a better future.

- It would reduce acts of sexual violence and crimes.

- Legalization of brothels would help in reducing human trafficking and forced prostitution.

- As helpless as it may sound, but because prostitution cannot be prevented, legalizing it is advocated.
Opposing Legalization
- Legalization is feared to result into encouraging the activities of pimping and trafficking, or forced sex work.

- Having a legal right to do so would expand the activity into a huge business, and not restrict it.

- The rights of sex workers can be safeguarded by enacting and enforcing special laws for them, which need not be a matter of, or require legalization.

- Legalizing makes women lose their anonymity, as they are required to register with the government. This increases vulnerability to social abuse, and adds to the stigma.

- It has been observed that legalization increases child prostitution.
It is hard to understand what actual women involved in prostitution have to say about this. Beyond a yes or no, there are several other issues linked with this discussion. On a concluding note, decline in sexual crimes can be in part attributed to legalizing sex work, but it is definitely not a 'solution' in its entirety.