Sometimes referred to as the world’s oldest profession, prostitution has a long history of abusing women. In addition to generally poor working conditions and unfair wage distribution between pimps and prostitutes, sex trafficking and child prostitution further the injustices of prostitution.
The increased political focus on human rights point activists and policymakers to prostitution as a sector needing improvement. Efforts to mitigate these problems associated with prostitution are diverse and controversial.
There are three predominant legal responses to prostitution across the globe, all of which are displayed in European law (IRP-LAW-1).
The conservative response, as seen in Belarus and Lithuania, is to completely outlaw prostitution. That means it is illegal both to engage in sex work, and to solicit it. This policy is widespread throughout the world, and some countries that employ it have seen success in reducing prostitution rates and improving the situation for women.
Several problems occur with these kinds of laws. One main consequence is re-victimizing female prostitutes. Many of the arrests and punishments for engaging in prostitution fall on the prostitutes themselves, not on pimps or johns.
A more liberal approach on the opposite end of the spectrum is to completely legalize prostitution. Some European countries have sought to do so to better regulate the industry and improve working conditions for prostitutes. Germany and the Netherlands have controversially taken this course in the quest for modernizing the sex industry. Both countries set a minimum age for prostitutes and successfully exert some control over the industry (IRP-LAW-5). These countries also profit greatly from taxing sex work: in Germany alone the sex industry rakes in an estimated 6 billion euros of taxable income every year. 
Recent studies show that prostitutes’ situations have improved little since the legalization of prostitution  despite claims that regulation of the industry prostitutes’ working conditions and compensation will improve.
Combatting sex trafficking becomes a greater challenge with legalized prostitution as it is difficult to distinguish between those who have been coerced into prostitution and those who have entered the profession “willingly”.
An alternative policy some states adopted is to legalize the sale of sex, but criminalize its purchase. This is to avoid some of the problems that complete legalization or complete criminalization of prostitution present. Generally heralded as being a beacon of gender equality, Sweden became the first European country to implement this strategy in 1999.  Since then other European countries have followed suit.
While this solution fails to eliminate all ills associated with prostitution, it is a promising start. Hefty fines threatened for soliciting prostitutes will help to decrease demand for sexual services while protecting prostitutes from becoming victims of the law.
As these new policies start to become implemented, it is essential for additional research to evaluate their effectiveness in curbing the practice of prostitution and helping women escape becoming trapped in the world’s oldest profession.
Definition of variables mentioned:
What are the laws surrounding prostitution?
If prostitution is legal, is there a minimum age?
 Ekman, Kajsa Ekis. Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self. Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 2013.
 “Gender Equality: The Swedish Approach to Fairness”. Swedish Institute, November 2015.