NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 12, 2006

Countries have tried different approaches to control or limit the growth of prostitution, from legalization to regulation, with decidedly mixed results. Some "progressive" campaigners have argued that the legalization and regulation of prostitution could reduce trafficking and help combat organized crime.

But can we consider "sex work" like any other mainstream economic activity whose profits should be integrated into the nation's gross domestic product (GDP)? The answer is a definite no, say Colette De Troy, coordinator of the European Women's Lobby's Policy Action Center on Violence Against Women, and Mary McPhail, EWL's secretary general.


  • Since 2001, when the Dutch lifted a legal ban on brothels, the sex industry saw a 25 percent increase in revenue.
  • Despite its "liberal" approach to prostitution, the number of victims of trafficking has risen tenfold during the last decade in Denmark.

By decriminalizing the sex industry, these countries have lowered the threshold for men to seek commercial sex; where legal barriers disappear, so do the social and ethical barriers to treating women as objects, explain De Troy and McPhail.

Sweden has had the most success in curtailing the abuse of women. Its new law treats the customers, but not the prostitutes, as criminals. Women trafficked for prostitution are always victims of sexual abuse and violence and are not criminals.

Yet, strategies to confront trafficking need to address the needs of the women whose rights are violated as well as targeting the pimps, clients and others who benefit from the sex trade. Saying "no" to trafficking and exploitation has nothing to do with "conservative" sexual politics. It is those who legalize the sex industry and legitimize the reduction of women to mere objects who pursue archaic politics, say De Troy and McPhail.

Source: Colette De Troy and Mary McPhail, "The Oldest Crime," The Wall StreetJournal, January 9, 2005.


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