Prostitution

Created by FindLaw's team of attorney writers and editors.

Sometimes called "the oldest profession," prostitution is known by many names, from streetwalkers and brothels, to sophisticated call-girl or escort services. However, whatever name it goes by, prostitution is illegal in almost all fifty-states.

At its most basic definition, prostitution is the exchange of a sexual act for money. State laws have expanded the definition to make it a crime to offer, agree to, or engage in a sexual act for compensation of any kind.

Prostitution is Illegal Nationwide -- Except for Nevada

Prostitution is illegal in all states except certain parts of Nevada, where it is strictly regulated. Some state statutes punish the act of prostitution, and other state statutes criminalize the acts of soliciting prostitution, arranging for prostitution, and operating a house of prostitution.

Depending upon applicable state law, charges can apply at various stages of a typical "transaction." Law enforcement can initiate charges against the provider of services (for "prostitution"), the customer paying for the services (for "solicitation of prostitution"), and any middleman involved (for "pandering" or "pimping").

In most states offering sexual services or agreeing to provide those services in exchange for money is considered prostitution whether or not the services are provided. That is why those sting operations you see on television are successful. The prostitute agrees to provide the service, the undercover police office pays for the service and then handcuffs the prostitute without the service being provided.

Prostitution Under Federal Law

The federal government largely leaves prosecution of prostitution up to the states. However, the federal government does seek to protect minors and addresses trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, both interstate and importation.

The Mann Act, enacted in 1910, was meant to prohibit the transportation of individuals across state lines for the purpose of paid sexual activity or debauchery, but over the years the Act has been amended. It now makes it a crime to transport an individual in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent that the individual engage in prostitution or other illegal sexual activity (Section 2421).

The federal government prohibits prostitution near military establishments.

Solicitation of Prostitution

The person who pays for the sexual services, sometimes called "Johns," can face charges of solicitation of prostitution. Solicitation of prostitution is a crime involving a person's agreement to exchange money for sex. The agreement does not have to be explicit. A person's actions can be enough to demonstrate agreement. The solicitation charge can be enhanced by solicitation of prostitution to a minor, which will often result in the misdemeanor charge becoming a felony.

The crime of solicitation of prostitution occurs at the moment you agree to pay for sex, and take some action to further that agreement. Solicitation is simply encouraging someone to commit a crime. It does not matter if the crime ends up being committed or not. An action to further an agreement can be most any act demonstrating a willingness to go through with the agreement, like withdrawing money from an ATM.

Penalties and Sentencing

Depending on the offense and the circumstance of the arrest, solicitation and prostitution are punished in most states by a minimal fine and jail time for the first offense. However, subsequent offenses penalties increase and can be significant.

Federal prostitution trafficking violations can result in possible 5 to 10 year prison sentences and fines.

Get Professional Help From a Criminal Defense Lawyer

A conviction for prostitution or solicitation can carry penalties ranging from fines to prison time, but can also involve a social stigma that's hard to leave behind. It's important to realize that you're innocent until the government proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt. There are defenses available and an experienced criminal defense attorney can make sure that you put your strongest case forward or explore any plea bargain options available to you.

Next Steps

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