Poster Paper: Victims and/Or Criminals: The Effects of State-Level Sex Trafficking and Prostitution Policies On Enforcement

Saturday, November 9, 2013
West End Ballroom A (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Andrea Mayo, Arizona State University
State laws dealing with the sale of sex in exchange for drugs or money generally incorporate two major understandings of prostitution, the first characterizes prostitution as a criminal behavior threatening public health and morality, and the second sees prostitution as an exploitative relationship in which women are trafficked into sex work against their will (Chapkis, 1997; Outshoorn, 2005; Phoenix, 1999; Weitzer, 1999, 2006, 2007). While the primary targets of prostitution criminalization statutes are generally the women or men exchanging sex for goods or monetary reward, the primary targets of sex trafficking statutes are the men or women profiting from the sex exchangers, or the men or women purchasing sexual services. Based on her fieldwork with women engaging in sex work, Elizabeth Bernstein argues that regardless of the official prostitution policy regime, low-income women of color working on the street are likely to be arrested and penalized by criminal justice institutions (Bernstein, 2007). This paper tests this proposition by constructing a unique panel dataset to test the relationship between the shift from prostitution criminalization to sex trafficking language in state penal codes and prostitution arrest rates. While prostitution arrest rates at the state level do not distinguish between arrests of street-level prostitutes and those engaging in other means of prostitution, research by Kendall and Cunningham (2011) shows that the arrest rate statistics are a good proxy measure for arrests of street-level prostitutes, the precise population of concern to Bernstein.

This paper will add to the literature by using a unique panel dataset spanning from 1991 to 2011 across all 50 states to examine the relationship between prostitution and sex trafficking policies and prostitution arrests, after controlling for economic, political, and other state characteristics, and state and year fixed effects. The dataset will be constructed using data from the Uniform Crime Reports, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research, state-level prostitution and sex trafficking statutes pulled from Lexis-Nexis State Capital, the Statistical Abstracts, and other relevant sources. A Poisson model with state and year fixed effects will be estimated in the hopes that my analysis will contribute to the literature on the relationship between state criminal justice policies, and prostitution enforcement. Preliminary results suggest that increases in prostitution arrests are related to both stricter prostitution and sex trafficking statutes. Because women working in street prostitution, who are considered the most exploited group of sex workers are by far the most likely to be arrested, these results suggest reason for concern and call the effectiveness and meaning of sex trafficking policies into question.