The Supreme Court of Canada is hearing a case on prostitution. Last year we reported on the Ontario Court of Appeal decision overturning the Criminal Code prohibitions against prostitution. One of the arguments made for legalizing prostitution in Canada (and in other jurisdictions) is that it reduces illegal human trafficking. Erik Voeten of the Monkey Cage blog notes new research that debunks that argument:
One of the advertised advantages of legalizing prostitution is that it should reduce illegal human trafficking. The theory is that customers will favor legal over trafficked prostitutes, thus reducing demand for the latter. Yet, legalization may also raise overall demand for prostitution. This increase in the size of the market may lead to more trafficking even if most customers prefer legal prostitutes.
Seo-Young Cho, Axel Dreher, and Eric Neumayer find in a recently published article in World Development that this latter effect dominates empirically: countries that legalized have larger reported inflows of human trafficking than similar countries where prostitution is illegal. They also found this effect in a more detailed study of Sweden, Germany and Denmark, which changed their prostitution laws.