On or Off the Streets?

Derrian Thompson- Honorbound

The sex industry is well known all over the world and considered a dangerous and corrupt industry but still the demand for it is always present. Women who enter this industry are typically very young and come from very unstable backgrounds making them targets to older men who are looking to sell them and make a profit. Young women are subject to abuse from their pimps, the men buying them, and other bystanders. Since prostitution is seen as a criminal act and illegal, there are no restrictions on the business or any regulations on what these girls are being paid and how they are treated by their employers. Advocates for the legalization of prostitution argue that by doing so, they will be protecting these women who choose to sell their bodies as a way of making money.

Charles Wheelan, the author of Naked Economics, defines perverse incentives as “inadvertent incentives created when we set out to do something completely different. Also known as the law of unintended consequences” (Wheelan 36). In the case of legalizing prostitution, the incentive for the government would be to protect women from abuse and being underpaid. By decriminalizing prostitution, it would be considered a regulated industry where everything that happens is monitored by an official so there is little room for abuse or exploitation by the pimps.

Rachel Moran, a former sex worker, knows exactly what it was like to work in this industry and what the effect of legalizing it would be. She says that “implementing this policy would will simply calcify into law men’s entitlement to buy sex, while decriminalizing pimping will protect no one but the pimps” (Moran).  While the legalization of prostitution might bring more regulation to the business, it will bring more illegal activity in order to go around those regulations that are set. The only people that this policy would benefit would be the pimps who are no longer sentenced to prison for selling women but instead are paid a real salary.

Certain countries that have legalized prostitution become central hubs for human traffickers because once they make it to those countries where prostitution is legal, they are no longer considered to be doing anything wrong. Countries where prostitution is legal, there are no incentives for the government to help women who want to leave the industry because it is now socially sanctioned.

The perverse incentives that accidentally happen when prostitution is legal are consequences that far outweigh the benefits. The buying and selling of sex becomes easier and more attainable for men because there is no longer a risk that they are taking when they do this. The once illegal activity is now legal and the young women are still being trafficked, taken advantage of, and abused. While the government may not intend for this to happen, perverse incentives still take place and hurt those who it was once trying to protect.


Crichton, Fraser. “Decriminalising Sex Work in New Zealand: Its History and …” Open     Democracy. August 21, 2015. Accessed October 21, 2016.           https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/fraser-crichton/decriminalising-sex-  work-in-new-zealand-its-history-and-impact.

Moran, Rachel. “Buying Sex Should Not Be Legal – The New York Times.” The New York          Times. August 28, 2015. Accessed October 21, 2016.          http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/29/opinion/buying-sex-should-not-be-legal.html.

Wheelan, Charles J. Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science. New York: Norton,          2002.


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