Who Pays Full Report (917 KB)

 Who Pays Press Release 050812 (104 KB)

 Who Pays Facts & Results Sheet (572 KB)

Prostitution and Denver’s Criminal Justice System: Who Pays? is a study that examined the enforcement of current prostitution laws in the City and County of Denver. The study was conducted in partnership with Metropolitan State University of Denver and the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking (LCHT), for the purpose of obtaining a knowledge base of prostitution-related offenses.


The goal of the study was to highlight potential points of intersection between prostitution and sex trafficking, in addition to the role of the criminal justice system in investigating and prosecuting buyers of commercial sex.


Research Goal and Questions: The study investigated the various factors involved in responding to prostitution-related offenses within the City and County of Denver by examining:

An Overview
Prostitution and Denver’s Criminal Justice System: Who Pays?, gathered data to better understand attitudes, perceptions and actions regarding prostitution enforcement broadly by using surveys and interviews with various law enforcement actors. The study also included an analysis of archival data in order to create a comprehensive picture of the systems involved in prostitution enforcement efforts. Our motivation for this study was to examine the enforcement of current prostitution laws in the City and County of Denver to better understand the links between the purchasing of sex and human trafficking.

While interest in the demand for commercial sex provoked this study, early in the process it became clear that laws surrounding prostitution violations in Colorado do not differentiate between individuals buying or selling sex. Thus, the study required an analysis not only of individuals charged with buying sex but also those charged with selling sex. National trends have focused on increasing penalties for prostitution activity as a means to curb instances of human trafficking. Our study revealed that in a climate where the law does not differentiate between buyers and sellers of commercial sex, the vulnerable population on whose behalf these efforts are meant to support, can actually be made more vulnerable due to the severe and generalized criminalization of prostitution activity.

Prostitution enforcement is becoming a vehicle for combating sex trafficking at national, state, and municipal levels. However, it is possible that within this initiative, one that may be derived from the best intentions, there are unintended consequences for various populations. The primary findings of this study demonstrate gender disparities in arrests and sentencing in prostitution-related offenses. Women charged with prostitution-related offenses were disproportionately criminalized compared to men. The assumptions of who a john is compared to who a prostitute is were corroborated with data collected from this study. Dichotomies emerged from the data: johns are "everyday men" and prostitutes are either "drug-addicted criminals" or "victims in need of assistance."

The present study helps to illuminate how the criminal justice system itself may create and exacerbate vulnerabilities that can lead to trafficking and exploitation. For example, unintended consequences may occur as a result of concentrated efforts to focus on johns, wherein the system risks may miss individuals who are trafficked. Additionally, if a victim or survivor of trafficking is characterized as being a minor the system may miss or miss-categorize potential victims of human trafficking. Therefore, in many ways this study serves as a caution to utilizing an historic criminal justice response to prostitution activity to achieve new ends.

Who Pays helps provide baseline context that surrounds prostitution enforcement, and will help inform actions to support victims and survivors of human trafficking. When it comes to the question of Who Pays, clearly it is the vulnerable, those susceptible to harm. As the inquiries into the crime of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation evolve, so too must our conversations around our communities’ responses to prostitution.