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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Concludes Decriminalizing Prostitution Won’t Solve Social, Ethical Problems

As debate continues around the world about whether prostitution should be decriminalized, a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher argues in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics for a middle ground in the US that would punish buyers and brokers of sex, but not the people who sell sex (i.e. prostitutes).

Dr. Emily Rothman, an associate professor of community health sciences at BUSPH and expert in sexual abuse and violence, says that both the criminalization and legalization of commercial sex have ethical pitfalls because they can “disempower and burden sellers” and put vulnerable people at increased risk of harm.

She argues that the so-called “Nordic model,” which criminalizes only the buying and brokering of sex, “offers the advantage of eliminating punishment for sellers, while potentially preventing the expansion of the commercial sex market and limiting the number of people trafficked.”

Dr. Rothman says that despite global controversy about the regulation of commercial sex, there is widespread agreement that sellers, or prostitutes, are at increased risk for a host of negative health and social consequences, including assault, homicide, and sexually transmitted infections. Complicating the debate is a lack of data on the percentage of those engaged in commercial sex who sell sex willingly, or who are coerced by force (i.e. trafficked) or by financial pressures.

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