Decriminalizing Prostitution

April 15, 2016 • Volume 26, Issue 15
Should buying and selling sex be legal?
By Sarah Glazer


A 17-year-old girl is arrested for alleged prostitution in Los Angeles (Getty Images/Robert Nickelsberg)
A 17-year-old girl is arrested for alleged prostitution in Los Angeles. The human rights group Amnesty International proposes decriminalizing the sex trade worldwide in an effort to make life safer for prostitutes. (Getty Images/Robert Nickelsberg)

Amnesty International has spurred a global debate on prostitution with a controversial proposal to decriminalize the sex trade worldwide. The human-rights organization argues that lifting bans on prostitution would make life safer for prostitutes. But critics say decriminalization would increase global sex trafficking and put many women at greater risk. Policies on prostitution are shifting throughout Europe and the United States. In response to concerns about trafficking and health risks, the German and Dutch governments have proposed tightening existing regulations that have legalized prostitution. New Zealand, on the other hand, has fully decriminalized the sex trade along the lines supported by Amnesty. Sweden has adopted what is known as the “Nordic model,” in which only the buyers of sex are prosecuted. Seattle and 10 other U.S. cities are copying Sweden, hoping to stop prostitution altogether by eliminating demand for commercial sex. But critics, arguing that no way exists to halt the world's “oldest profession,” say the Nordic approach simply drives the sex trade further underground.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Sexual Behavior
Feb. 22, 2019  Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Apr. 28, 2017  Sports and Sexual Assault
Oct. 21, 2016  Pornography
Apr. 15, 2016  Decriminalizing Prostitution
Oct. 31, 2014  Campus Sexual Assault
Apr. 27, 2012  Sexual Harassment
Jan. 22, 2010  Sex Scandals
May 23, 2008  Prostitution Debate
Nov. 04, 1994  Sex on Campus
Jun. 11, 1993  Prostitution
Jul. 13, 1984  Sexual Revolution Reconsidered
Aug. 25, 1971  Legalization of Prostitution
Apr. 01, 1970  Sexual Revolution: Myth or Reality
Dec. 30, 1963  Sex on the Campus
Consumer Behavior
Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence