Date of Award

Spring 2024

Degree Type

Honors Project


College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Ryan Larson


Prostitution legislation has re-emerged in public and academic discourse in recent decades after relative silence on the issue since the mid-twentieth century, spurred by Sweden’s adoption of prostitution decriminalization - the first known legislation criminalizing the buyers of sex (rather than the sellers) to be actualized in legislation. Since then, scholarship examining the population-level effects of such legal changes has found evidence that changes in legislation affect rates of sexual violence, although the causal credibility and generalizability of some of this scholarship is disputed. Additionally, much of the previous scholarship examining this question used relatively small sample sizes that include only wealthy, industrialized, European Union (EU) member countries. In the current study, I leverage a uniquely constructed panel dataset of an international sample of nations from 1975-2006 to examine the relationship between sex work legislation and rates of sexual violence. Using a staggered adoption difference-in-difference design, I find that the impact varies by the type of legislation: moves to complete legalization as compared to states of criminalization and decriminalization significantly reduce rape rates, but decriminalization, as compared to states of criminalization, leads to an increase in rape rates. These findings suggest that moves towards legalization, and not decriminalization, are effective routes for reducing sexual violence.








Departmental Honors Projects