European Journal of Law and Economics

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 87–107 | Cite as

The law and economics of international sex slavery: prostitution laws and trafficking for sexual exploitation

  • Niklas Jakobsson
  • Andreas Kotsadam


International trafficking in humans for sexual exploitation is an economic activity driven by profit motives. Laws regarding commercial sex influence the profitability of trafficking and may thus affect the inflow of trafficking to a country. Using two recent sources of European cross country data we show that trafficking of persons for commercial sexual exploitation (as proxied by the data sets we are using) is least prevalent in countries where prostitution is illegal, most prevalent in countries where prostitution is legalized, and in between in those countries where prostitution is legal but procuring illegal. Case studies of two countries (Norway and Sweden) that have criminalized buying sex support the possibility of a causal link from harsher prostitution laws to reduced trafficking. Although the data do not allow us to infer robust causal inference, the results suggest that criminalizing procuring, or going further and criminalizing buying and/or selling sex, may reduce the amount of trafficking to a country.


Law and economics Prostitution Sexual exploitation Sex slavery Trafficking 

JEL classification

F22 K14 



The paper has benefited from comments by seminar participants at the University of Gothenburg. We also wish to thank Marcus Eliason, Olof Johansson Stenman and Katarina Nordblom for useful comments. In addition we are very grateful to Danailova-Trainor and Belser for giving us access to the ILO data.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Norwegian Social Research (NOVA)OsloNorway
  2. 2.University of GothenburgGothenburgSweden

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