In 2003, Rhode Island decriminalized indoor prostitution - unintentionally.
The state’s legislature made an amendment to a 1980 law, because the law was believed to outlaw some forms of consensual sex between adults. However, this modification created a legal loophole that wasn’t noticed until 2003 when a District Court judge interpreted the law to mean that exchanging money for consensual sex was not a criminal offense as long as it took place indoors. It wasn’t until 2009 that the state closed the loophole and criminalized sex work once again.
Although the state’s legal accident was embarrassing, it actually served as a fascinating “natural experiment,” allowing researches to see what happens when sex work is decriminalized.
In a new paper rom the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists Scott Cunningham and Manisha Shah examine the six years that residents were aware that prostitution was not a legal offense in the state. They found that there was a steep decline in both rape offenses and gonorrhea incidences.