Authors: Cunningham, Scott, Gregory DeAngelo, and John Tripp
University of West Virginia, 2017.
Female prostitution is both illegal in most American cities and extremely dangerous, as prostitutes face risks of violence from the environment and clients. Previous studies suggest that prostitution has the highest homicide rate of any female intensive occupation in the United States by several orders of magnitude. Policies that can efficiently minimize these hazards are therefore of prima facie importance. Between 2002 and 2010, Craigslist provided an “erotic services” section on its front page which was used almost exclusively by prostitutes to advertise illegal sex services. The company opened this service in different cities at different points in time. We use a differences-in-differences strategy to identify its causal effect on female safety and find that Craigslist erotic services reduced the female homicide rate by 17.4 percent. We also find modest evidence that erotic services reduced female rape offenses. Our analysis suggests that this reduction in female violence was the result of street prostitutes moving indoors and matching more efficiently with safer clients.