Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 64, Issue 4–5, pp 211–228 | Cite as

Policing prostitution in an era of human trafficking enforcement

  • Amy FarrellEmail author
  • Shea Cronin


Prostitution and commercialized vice have been variously prioritized as urban crime problems across U.S. history. In response, lawmakers have historically been guided by a prohibititionst view where people selling, buying or facilitating the sale of sex are considered to be immoral and criminal. In recent years, public concern about the trafficking of persons for sex has reframed prostitution and the expectations of government response. The U.S. federal government and all fifty states have passed legislation that is guided by an abolitionist view of prostitution where people who are forced or coerced to sell sex are redefined as victims. State, county and municipal police officers are now receiving training on how to identify human trafficking cases and investigators are being trained to investigate and prepare cases for prosecution. Despite these efforts under the new legal regime, confusion exists about how sex trafficking differs from prostitution and correspondingly necessitates different types of law enforcement responses. Adding to this complication is the fact that in many major cities the responsibility for identifying and eradicating human trafficking has fallen to the same group of investigators who are responsible for enforcing vice and prostitution laws. As a result, prostitution enforcement is expected to change as police increasingly focus on identifying sex trafficking victims. Using data on police arrests for prostitution from 1980 to 2012, we examine the impact of federal and state anti-trafficking legislation on the local enforcement of prostitution. Our findings inform debate about legal reform as a response to urban crime problems and illustrate the complexities of policy implementation and interpretation.


Human Trafficking Police Agency Uniform Crime Report Legal Change Trafficking Victim 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Northeastern UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Boston UniversityBostonUSA

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