Fuelling traffic Abolitionist claims of a causal nexus between legalised prostitution and trafficking

Over the last decade, researchers and legislators have struggled to get an accurate picture of the scale and nature of the problem of human trafficking. In the absence of reliable data, some anti-prostitution activists have asserted that a causal relationship exists between legalised prostitution and human trafficking. They claim that systems of legalised or decriminalised prostitution lead to increases in trafficking into the sex industry. This paper critically analyses attempts to substantiate this claim during the development of anti-trafficking policy in Australia and the United States.

These attempts are explored within the context of persistent challenges in measuring the scale and nature of human trafficking. The efforts of abolitionist campaigners to use statistical evidence and logical argumentation are analysed, with a specific focus on the characterisation of demand for sexual services and systems of legalised prostitution as ‘pull’ factors fuelling an increase in sex trafficking. The extent to which policymakers sought to introduce evidence-based policy is also explored.

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Erin O'Brian