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The World’s Oldest Victimless Crime

In 1980, legislators in Rhode Island accidentally made prostitution legal in the state — and didn’t notice until 2003; they didn’t fix their error until 2009. Streetwalking and pimping was still illegal, but the six-year stretch of legalization gave social scientists a unique chance to see what happened: rape, sexually transmitted disease, and violence against women all dropped dramatically in the state. Would hookers feel “coerced” into the profession if it was legal, as assumed by anti-prostitution advocates? Working prostitutes “have heard that, and they laugh at it,” said Mike Kiselica, an attorney who defended prostitutes during the de facto decriminalization. “The frontline workers, the girls, they were free to move around, and would do so if one of the other places offered them a more attractive working environment or a better clientele.” He said that despite it being legal, police raids continued, and police didn’t find evidence of organized crime — or human trafficking. Which is just to be expected, says George Washington University sociologist Ronald Weitzer. “When something is prohibited, it allows organized crime to gain a foothold,” just like during alcohol prohibition in the United States. (RC/Washington Post) ...Legislated morality: a cure worse than the disease.
Original Publication Date: 20 July 2014
This story is in True’s book collections, in Volume 21.

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