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.

This is from Scott Cunningham, Gregory DeAngelo, and John Tripp, “Craigslist’s Effect on Violence Against Women,” November 2017.

What’s their argument? That Craigslist allowed women to learn more about potential clients.

One thing I hadn’t known:

Potterat et al. (2004) estimate that the workplace homicide rate for female prostitutes is 204 per 100,000.

That’s huge. According to Aaron Wildavsky and Adam Wildavsky, “Risk and Safety,” in David R. Henderson, ed., The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, it’s almost double the annual number of fatalities per 100,000 for lumberjacks, which is 118. When I worked in an underground nickel mine in 1969, some of the miners, who were looking out for me, told me never to become a lumberjack.

So what did our wonderful governments do, because they “care” so much about prostitutes? Any guesses? Bueller, Bueller?

Here’s what.

By the way, I learned about the Cunningham et al paper from this outstanding, and comprehensive, article, “The Best Sex Work Writing of 2017,” by Elizabeth Nolan Brown of Reason.