Federal and State Charges for Prostitution

Sometimes called "the oldest profession," prostitution is a form of sex work. It's known by many names and exists in many forms. The word "prostitute" can refer to anyone, regardless of gender, who sells sexual acts for money. It can include related workers such as brothel employees.

It may also cover escort service workers or independent internet entrepreneurs. But regardless of what form the service takes, prostitution is a crime in almost all 50 states.

State laws have mostly expanded the definition to make it a crime for anyone to offer, agree to, or engage in a sexual act for compensation of any kind. This article provides a brief overview of federal and state charges for prostitution. Prostitution charges can lead to difficult consequences. They can leave stains on your criminal record that can follow you for a long time. Law enforcement takes the offense very seriously in many jurisdictions. It's important to know your rights. Continue reading to learn more.

Defining Prostitution

Broadly speaking, prostitution is defined as engaging in sexual conduct in exchange for compensation. But prostitution offenses involve other types of conduct as well. Such sexual conduct includes sexual intercourse and other types of sexual contact. This article breaks down some of the most important parts of laws against prostitution.

It's important to note that prostitution charges don't only relate to committing acts of prostitution. They also involve promoting prostitution and lewd acts for money. You could face additional charges if the acts happen in a public place. Public lewdness or public indecency charges often accompany such cases.

To commit prostitution, a person's conduct must meet certain requirements. You can learn more later in this article.

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. Other state statutes also criminalize the act of soliciting prostitution. They may even punish arranging for prostitution and operating a house of prostitution. Many states, in their laws prohibiting prostitution, refer to “pimping" and “procuring."

Who Can Face Charges?

Depending upon applicable state law, criminal charges can apply at various stages of a typical "transaction." Police could arrest and charge the provider of services (for prostitution). They could arrest the customer paying for the services (for solicitation of prostitution). They might charge anyone who brokers or profits from the transaction (for pandering or sex trafficking). Prostitution laws can be complicated to navigate and vary significantly from state to state. It's important to verify the laws of your state.

In most states, offering sexual services in exchange for money counts as prostitution. Agreeing to provide those services in exchange for money is also considered prostitution. Under those circumstances, it does not matter whether the services are actually provided.

This makes enforcement and prosecution much easier because the sexual act need not actually happen for charges to be filed. Once a prostitute agrees to provide the service, an undercover police officer may make the arrest without completing the sexual act. But the possible offender must also accept payment from the officer to make the transaction complete. If this does not occur, entrapment may be used as a defense.

Prostitution Under Federal Law

The federal government largely leaves prosecution of prostitution up to the states. But it does seek to protect minors. The federal government addresses trafficking for the purpose of prostitution. It does so in both interstate and importation contexts. That means crossing state or national borders could make a difference in prosecution.

The Mann Act, enacted in 1910, was meant to prohibit the transportation of individuals across state lines. At first the ban applied specifically for the purpose of paid sexual activity or debauchery. But over the years, the Mann Act has been amended and clarified. It now makes it a crime to transport an individual in interstate or foreign commerce. But it does so specifically with the intent that the individual engage in prostitution or other illegal sexual activity.

The federal government also prohibits prostitution near military establishments. Under the federal penal code, a person may receive a fine and/or up to 10 years in prison for prostitution or related offenses.

Solicitation of Prostitution

People who pay for sexual services can face charges of solicitation of prostitution. Law enforcement officers sometimes call these suspects "Johns," though any gender can face charges. 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 are often enough to demonstrate agreement.

The solicitation charge can be enhanced by solicitation of prostitution to a minor. This could result in the misdemeanor charge becoming a felony. Because minors cannot consent to sexual acts with adults, depending on state and local laws, the charge for solicitation is treated more severely if children are involved.

The crime of solicitation of prostitution occurs at the moment the customer agrees to pay for a sexual act. It also happens when an action occurs to proceed with that agreement.

Solicitation can also be seen as 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 almost any act demonstrating a willingness to go through with the agreement. Withdrawing money from an ATM, for example, is often the basis for a charge.

Penalties and Sentencing

Depending on the offense, solicitation and prostitution are punished in most states by a minimal fine. The circumstances of the arrest can also affect the severity of the penalty. Such offenses are also punished by jail time for the first offense. Often, penalties increase for subsequent convictions.

Increasingly, enforcement actions have focused on people who import and profit from sex workers. Federal sex trafficking convictions can result in lengthy prison sentences and fines. Prostitution is often treated as a Class A misdemeanor. Prior convictions can raise the severity of sentencing.

Decriminalization of Sex Work

On the other hand, human rights groups are pushing for further decriminalization of sex work. An example of such an organization is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Advocates for reform focus on those who engage in consensual sex acts. They argue that the criminalization of prostitution enables people who victimize sex workers. They also say criminalization enables people and groups who profit from human trafficking.

Get Professional Help From a Criminal Defense Lawyer

A conviction for prostitution or solicitation can carry significant penalties. These range from fines to prison time. They can also carry a social stigma that's hard to leave behind. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime of prostitution or solicitation, hiring an attorney can make it difficult for the government to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. It's important to get legal advice from a lawyer specializing in criminal law if you're facing a prostitution-related charge.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you assess possible defenses. They can also help you put your strongest case forward or explore any plea bargain options. It can be hard to fight a prostitution charge. A lawyer can devise your defense strategy. They can secure the best possible outcome for your case. Having expertise with such criminal cases, a criminal defense attorney can assist with all legal problems arising from a charge linked to prostitution.

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