When Rhode Island Accidentally Legalized Prostitution, Rape Decreased Sharply

For decades, few people noticed that legislators in I ishad deleted crucial language from Rhode Island state law in 1980. It wasn’t until a 2003 court case that police, to their chagrin, discovered they couldn’t prevent prostitutes and their customers from engaging in commercial exchange.

For the next six years until legislators corrected their error, the oldest profession was not a crime in Rhode Island — and public health and public safety substantially improved as a result, according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The statewide incidence of gonorrhea among women declined by 39 percent, and the number of rapes reported to police in the state declined by 31 percent, according to the paper.

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