Once upon a time we tried to make drinking alcohol illegal. We all know how that turned out. And finally (after WAY too long) states are starting to make recreational use of marijuana legal, with promising results.
Likewise, we finally eliminated laws against gay sex, and the world didn’t end. In fact, we took the next step and started giving civil rights to gays, including the right to get married.
It seems like attempts to legislate morality, in particular by creating “victimless crimes” is not only doomed to failure, it is pretty stupid. This is one area where I completely agree with libertarians.
In 1980, Rhode Island updated their state law for prostitution. They didn’t realize it at the time, but they accidentally made prostitution legal by deleting a paragraph of the law by mistake. However, things like pimping and streetwalking were still illegal, so nobody noticed the change until the Internet gave prostitutes a new way to find customers without standing on street corners.
In 2003, police closed down two spas for prostitution, but when the case went to trial the judge ruled that they couldn’t convict the prostitutes of streetwalking because they were staying off the street. Prostitution remained legal in Rhode Island until 2009, when legislators finally revised the law to make it illegal again.
Which gave researchers an opportunity to study the effects of prostitution becoming legal in their state. What they found was extremely interesting: the statewide incidence of gonorrhea among women in the state (not just prostitutes) went down by 39%. Even more fascinating, the number of rapes reported to the police declined by 31%. That’s a very significant decline in a violent crime.
The decline in the number of rapes was so large that Cunningham and Shah felt obliged to examine their data with three separate statistical methods, but the effect persisted. The authors were eventually persuaded that their result was not a fluke, and that imposing criminal sanctions on prostitutes and their clients might cause violence against women. “The human costs are so big, if this is in fact a very real causal effect,” Cunningham said. “I think we have convinced ourselves that we have done everything we can do rule out alternative explanations.”
This is just one study, so sweeping generalizations are premature, but further research is definitely warranted.
The Puritans who helped found this country were against dancing, but we soon got over that. With these new changes, maybe “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” should become our new political slogan. In fact, there was even a study done about that!