When reading up on prostitution in places like Nevada, Greece, Mexico, Germany, the Netherlands, et cetera; one reoccurring theme I keep see popping up is that Human Trafficking seems to become a notable problem relative to how it was before.

My question is this: is there data or theory on this that can explain whether this perceived increase in Human Trafficking is because the prostitution actually FACILITATES NEW Human Trafficking, or merely ATTRACTS EXISTING forms of Human Trafficking; Human Trafficking that would have otherwise just ended up in another country if it weren't for some added incentive brought about by legalized, or at least decriminalized, prostitution?

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    Please define exactly what you mean by "human trafficking".
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 4:26
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    "the action or practice of illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labour or commercial sexual exploitation." <-- via Google
    – Tirous
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 5:25
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    Where did you get the impression of rising human trafficking cases? I glanced at the federal police data for Germany and that doesn't confirm it (depending on what time frame you use, I guess).
    – janh
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 8:46
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    From a purely hypothetical point of view: if prostitutes do not fear prosecution for their occupation, they are more likely to interact with law enforcement, for example - report traffickers and increase visibility of already existing problem, no? This would be a third option - no increase in actual crime, but a rapid increase in crime that was reported to authorities. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 8:48
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    @janh, one place to go for an impression of rising human trafficking cases would be the US State Department. Here's a table showing the outcomes of legal cases prosecuting trafficking: state.gov/documents/organization/282798.pdf#page=51 Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 14:24

2 Answers 2


Neither. The question is based on a false premise alltogether - there is no evidence that legalization in any way correlates with increased trafficking, even the people making the claims are forced to acknowledge that.

I addressed that earlier on Skeptics.SE: even the vocal proponents of the theory have zero data to back them up:

Yet they quickly add that no statistics have ever been gathered and law enforcers never before have made it a top priority - so the scope of the problem still needs to be determined.

... The task force's first task was to determine whether, in fact, there was a human-trafficking problem, Lesney says. But because of the lack of hard data, she says, "we were struggling to quantify what we're dealing with."

Basically, they have no evidence that there's widespread trafficking in the first place; never mind that it has any relationship with legalization of sex work in Nevada (as it admits that the trafficking numbers that are known include general labour workers). There are almost no arrests/convictions for this, the article listed 9 cases in last 6 years, despite having tough laws on the books.

A separate related Q&A on Skeptics looked at Netherlands. While it didn't directly address the question, the numbers cited show that between 1.5% and (at the highest possible estimate) 6% of sex workers in Netherlands (between 450 and 900 out of 15-30k) are trafficking victims. For comparison, Belgium, which has no legalization, had at least 500 victims in the same period, and since the number is merely those who had help from NGOs, real number is likely at least as high as Netherlands - while the population of Netherlands is 50% higher than of Belgium (11M vs 17M).

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    I worked for a company that did some research into sex trafficking, and while I wasn’t deeply involved in the project, the analysts all concurred that of all the awful things they learned during it, the sheer lack of data about it was perhaps the scariest. The range of values they quoted to me about percentage of sex workers who are victims of trafficking in the US (where sex work is largely illegal) ranged from 10% to 90%. Unfortunately, can’t back that up so it’s hard to directly compare to your 1.5-6% range.
    – KRyan
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 21:10
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    Indeed. The problem with the debate about prostitution is that it is so hard to acquire any reliable data at all. In those jurisdictions where prostitution is legal you at least have a chance to get some prostitutes to register, but you will likely only get data which is heavily biased toward those who are not human trafficking victims. And if you look at arrest numbers, you get data about the efficiency of law enforcement, not about all the stuff which happens without them noticing.
    – Philipp
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 21:58
  • Well, here's a study showing how to provide the raw data, conducted by Americans in Cambodia... digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://… Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 14:14

The amount of trafficking should depend on the market (or black market) for prostitutes' services. If there is a lot of demand, then traffickers increase their volume. So if the legalization of prostitution raises the demand (for example because people from other countries go to places where it's legal and also more people from in-country buy these services, assuming it's legal for both prostitutes and their customers) and with the demand the price goes up, then the traffickers would try to get money out of the market by doing more trafficking. That is assuming that legal prostitution does not significantly attract more women to pursue this kind of career. It would just be satisfying legal demand by illegal means. So following this reasoning, legalized prostitution (sale and consumption) would increase human trafficking for sexual exploitation.

There is considerable evidence for this reasoning which was published in a scientific study in 2013 already: Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?

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    The community expects that questions such as this are answered with some degree of empirical data and citations to back that up. Right now your answer is lacking in that department, and is likely to get deleted unless it is improved.
    – user11249
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 13:20
  • Well, I guess then so be it.
    – jjack
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 15:16
  • @Carpetsmoker It sucks that a valid argument can't stand as such though.
    – jjack
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 11:05
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    @jjack An experiment isn't the only way to acquire data. But when there is just no way to acquire data, then the only thing we could do to post a proper answer is one where we explain that there is no data, why that data is so hard to come by and that as a consequence there is no conclusive answer to the question.
    – Philipp
    Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 1:47
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    @jjack thanks for adding that study. But calling it "Considerable Evidence" might be kind of a stretch. It mentions in every other paragraph that the data is scarce, inconclusive and hard to compare between countries.
    – Philipp
    Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 11:30

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