Prostitution laws and sex trafficking in the European Union

The following graph shows the average number of identified and presumed sex trafficking victims per million people in the European Union’s (EU) 28 member states in 2008, 2009, and 2010, sorted by the type of prostitution laws each country had. The countries have been divided into four groups depending on whether their prostitution laws punish only those who sell sex, neither sellers nor buyers, both sellers and buyers, or only those who buy sex. Data on sex trafficking is from the EU’s own harmonized dataset on trafficking and data on prostitution laws is based on the US Department of State’s Human Rights Reports.

ImageAs can be seen in the chart, countries who only punish sex buyers had, on average, lower prevalence of sex trafficking than countries with any other type of prostitution laws. Those who punish only those who sell sexual services (which morally, of course, is wicked since one then risks ending up de facto prosecuting the trafficking victims for selling, but not their buyers for buying) have, on average, the highest trafficking prevalence.

The descriptive results in this chart are in line with the so-called “demand model” that draws on basic microeconomic lessons and predicts lower prevalence of sex trafficking when sex buyers are targeted because that approach supposedly pushes down demand for purchased sex and makes trafficking less profitable.

Simon Hedlin

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