Reshaping the Debate on the Decriminalization of Sex Work

The criminalization of sex work has a major negative impact on those working within the industry. From being unable to seek legal recourse to facing stigma in their career prospects, sex workers face negative consequences as a result of being a part of an illegal industry. In this paper, I analyze an expansive study on the impact legalized sex work has on human trafficking rates. I then discuss how the economic theories discussed in the study relate to arguments about the decriminalization of sex work. I argue that two arguments in favor of maintaining the criminalization of sex work are misguided in at least one way. The first of these arguments points to a correlation between increased rates of human trafficking and decriminalized sex work. The second of these arguments relies on the claim that sex work is inherently dehumanizing. I address four problems that arise from the data analyzed and from arguments made by proponents against legalized sex work, focusing on the conflation of two ethically different actions. In order to come to a conclusion on whether sex work should be decriminalized and whether it has any relevant impact on rates of human trafficking, the current data needs to distinguish between human trafficking and sex work, arguments need to appropriately weigh the lived experiences of sex workers and benefits they would incur from its decriminalization, and concerns regarding dehumanization in the sex work industry need to answer to analogous worries about dehumanization in any work industry.


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