By Karen Mullins

The College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Criminology and Justice Studies, is proud to announce a Dissertation Defense by Katrina M. Cole.

Title: The Decriminalization Debate: Understanding Morality, Public Opinion, and the Drivers of Sex Work Policy Preferences

Date: Monday April 3, 2023
Time: 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Location: Via Zoom


  • Committee Chair Associate Professor Jason Rydberg,  University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • Professor Andrew Harris, Associate Chair, University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • Professor Carol Hay, University of Massachusetts Lowell


Amidst an expanding market of erotic products and services and broader calls for criminal justice reform in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, societal views about policing those involved in sex work are likely shifting. Although attempts to decriminalize sex work are becoming increasingly common, with legislation introduced in Washington D.C., New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts, these measures have failed to pass into law. While a framing battle occurs among activists and lobbyists attempting to influence policy, it is unknown how the public views sex work as a social problem within an increasingly mainstream commercial sex industry. Given limited knowledge regarding current levels of public support for decriminalization, this dissertation examines variation in individual evaluations of sex work and related criminal justice policies, and applies Moral Foundations Theory to assess the role of moral values in this debate. It will also explore which arguments are most influential in increasing support for decriminalization.