The debate over the legalization of prostitution continues to go on, although it is prohibited and criminalized in most jurisdictions of the US, the profession continues to be highly prevalent. When Rhode Island accidentally legalized the profession, they saw a sharp decrease in rape statistics.

How did the mix-up occur? Legislators in Providence had previously removed crucial language from the state’s law back in 1980. It wasn’t until a court case came up in 2003 that the state legislators discovered that they couldn’t prevent prostitutes and their customers from engaging in commercial exchange.

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The Rhode Island lawmakers had previously revised the statute on prostitution back in 1980, when they were concerned about its infringement of the legislation against First Amendment freedoms, and in their effort to protect those freedoms they went even further and unintentionally dissolved the section defining the act of prostitution itself as a crime. However, they only decriminalized indoor prostitution, and other related activities such as pimping and trafficking remained illegal in the state. The law was finally revised back in 2009, after the loophole went unnoticed for years, even though the women were mostly staying off the street and a judge had ruled in their favor.

pros9For six years after the loophole was discovered, legislators scrambled to rectify the situation and once again prohibit the profession, but those six years of prostitution in Rhode Island remained not a crime. But as a result of the decriminalization though, public health and public safety substantially improved, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The number of rapes reported to the police declined by 31 percent, as did the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases; specifically there was a large reduction in gonorrhea for men and women. Unsurprisingly, the legal mix-up helped to fuel a boom for the local sex market. The decriminalization decreased prostitute arrests, increased indoor prostitution advertising, and expanded the size of the indoor prostitution market itself.

The stigma associated with prostitution remains strong, and there is a passionate divide between those who would like to see it decriminalized and those who believe that continued prohibition is necessary. Although many remain firmly positioned against accepting legal prostitution, a growing number of citizens are beginning to understand the notion that a man or woman has the right to do what they wish with their own bodies, this includes making voluntary exchanges with other consenting adults for sex.

What goes on in the bedroom between two consenting adults should be the business of those individuals only. Besides that basic understanding for natural rights, decriminalization has also been shown to offer profound benefits for our society and help protect those involved in the sex trade from violence. In instances where it has been decriminalized, it has also been shown to reduce the prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.