News to me, though the legal glitch that allowed this situation occurred in 1980. A new study examining that period and place found some interesting data...onkblog/wp/2014/07/17/when-rhode-island-accidentally-legalized-prostitution-rape-and-stis-decreased-sharply/?wpsrc=AG0003376
From the linked article:
For the next six years until legislators corrected their error, the oldest profession was not a crime in Rhode Island -- and public health and public safety substantially improved as a result, according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The statewide incidence of gonorrhea among women declined by 39 percent, and the number of rapes reported to police in the state declined by 31 percent, according to the paper.
The study by Baylor University's Scott Cunningham and Manisha Shah of the University of California, Los Angeles contributes to an impassioned, long-running debate about prostitution among advocates for women's rights. Their work appears to be the first quantitative evidence that removing criminal penalties for prostitutes can reduce violence against women and curtail sexually transmitted infections in society generally -- and dramatically so. Yet opponents argue that legal prostitution would encourage traffickers to kidnap women and girls into lives of sexual slavery.
Shah and Cunningham did not explore this question in their paper, due to a lack of data.
It seems clear to me that legalizing prostitution would be better for a number of human rights and health issues. In the US there is of course daunting opposition, not only from those who want to dictate a narrow morality of sex, but the idea that Big Bad Gum'mint regulation is a horrible, horrible thing. And this is one service industry that cannot be left to regulate itself.