Changes in Arrest Patterns of Buyers and Sellers of Commercial Sex: An Interrupted Time-Series Analysis

Abstract

Although the commercial sex trade consists of three distinct parties—buyers, sellers, and facilitators—sellers are the most likely to be criminalized for their role in prostitution. In 2015, the Texas state legislature passed Senate Bill (S.B.) 825. This bill created separate offense codes for buyers and sellers of commercial sex. Prior to this, buyers and sellers were legally indistinguishable from each other under Texas law. Legally distinguishing buyers from sellers recognizes that different roles exist within the commercial sex trade, and serves as a necessary prerequisite for creating divergent pathways for individuals in these roles (e.g., targeting buyers with criminal sanctions, but providing sellers with access to victim services and diversion programs). This study examined whether S.B. 825 was associated with a shift in the number of buyers and sellers arrested for prostitution in Harris County, Texas. Findings revealed that the enactment of S.B. 825 corresponded with an increase in the number of prostitution arrests buyers accounted for, and an observable decrease in the number of prostitution arrests sellers accounted for. These changes remained relatively stable over a one-year period after the bill took effect.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The present study analyzed data from Harris County District Attorney’s office because it included additional data beyond that offered by HPD data. This data nevertheless provides insight into HPD arrest patterns because it consists of the exact same cases in HPD’s database.

  2. 2.

    These numbers do not add up to the average total number of arrests because the total number of arrests includes buyers, sellers, and facilitators.

  3. 3.

    Multicollinearity was tested and found to not be an issue between the total arrest numbers and the percentages of arrests for either sellers or buyers. It was included to control for total prostitution arrest activity.

  4. 4.

    The Durbin-Watson statistic indicates whether autocorrelation is present, and can result in values between 0 and 4. When no autocorrelation is present, d is equal to 2. Values between 0 and 2 suggest positive autocorrelation, whereas values greater than 2 suggest negative autocorrelation (Stata, n.d.). For our model, the Original Durbin-Watson statistic = 1.355, and the transformed Durbin-Watson statistic = 2.023, leading us to fail to reject the null hypothesis that the AR(1) transformed model did not have autocorrelation present.

  5. 5.

    An examination of the total number of prostitution arrests before and after the implementation of S.B. 825 does not indicate any significant differences in the mean total number of arrests between time periods. The average total number of arrests per week prior to S. B. 825 taking effect was 42.48, with an average of 43.37 total arrests per week after S.B. 825 took effect (t = −0.27, p = 0.79).

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Updegrove, A.H., Muftic, L.R. & Orrick, E.A. Changes in Arrest Patterns of Buyers and Sellers of Commercial Sex: An Interrupted Time-Series Analysis. Am J Crim Just 44, 872–891 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-019-09475-7

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Keywords

  • Prostitution
  • Sex work
  • Arrest decision
  • Police discretion
  • Law enforcement