Speed Reads

Numbers don't lie

Study: Rhode Island's accidental experiment with legal prostitution sharply cut rape cases

In 1980, Rhode Island accidentally legalized indoor prostitution, but nobody appeared to notice until a 2003 court case. It took state lawmakers another six years to close the loophole and re-criminalize prostitution. But a new study that examined those six years finds that between 2003 and 2009, there was a "large decrease in rapes" and a "large reduction in gonorrhea" among both men and women.

The researchers, Scott Cunningham at Baylor University and UCLA's Manisha Shah, speculate that the up to 31 percent drop in per capita rape cases was "due to men substituting away from rape toward prostitution," and the drop in sexually transmitted diseases is likely because indoor prostitutes tend to be safer sexually than outdoor ones. "The results suggest that decriminalization could have potentially large social benefits for the population at large — not just sex market participants," wrote Cunningham and Shah. Their working paper was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.