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Prostitution involves performing any sexual act in exchange for money or anything of value. Prostitution is illegal in every state, with the exception of a few counties in Nevada that allow for limited legal brothels. Street prostitution still exists, but a lot of modern prostitution has moved online. Many jurisdictions still treat prostitution as a serious offense, which can result in serious criminal penalties.

In general, anyone associated with prostitution can be charged with a related offense. These sex crimes make it illegal for anyone to:

  • Solicit prostitution
  • Offer sexual services for money
  • Engage in prostitution
  • Pimp, pander, or force someone to engage in prostitution
  • Arranging for others to engage in sexual activity for money

Some people consider prostitution to be a victimless crime because it often involves an agreement between two or more adults who are knowingly and voluntarily agreeing to exchange sex for money. Criminalizing prostitution between consenting adults drives the practice underground, which puts sex workers at risk of sexual violence or exploitation. However, prostitution is still against the law in most of the United States.

What Qualifies as Prostitution?

Prostitution involves a sexual act or sexual contact with another person in exchange for money or anything of value. Something of value could also include food, covering rent, paying debt, or drugs.

Prostitution can include various sexual acts beyond just sexual intercourse. Sexual acts that may qualify as acts of prostitution include anal sex, oral sex, or penetration. Sexual contact may include any touching of a clothed or unclothed body part of the genitalia, anus, breast, or buttocks.

Pimping and Pandering

Pimping and pandering generally involves convincing or forcing someone else to engage in prostitution. Generally, the pimp takes some or all of the money or compensation, profiting from the sex worker. In most states, it is against the law to cause, compel, induce, or arrange for any individual to engage in prostitution.

Pimping or pandering can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances and state law. Generally, the penalties are harsher for forced prostitution, prostitution of a minor, or sex trafficking.

Solicitation of Prostitution

Solicitation laws criminalize people who are looking to engage in prostitution. Even if the alleged customer never engages in sex, it can be a crime to even ask or arrange for someone to engage in prostitution. Some people are arrested when they are found in the company of suspected prostitutes, while others are arrested in prostitution stings.

In a sting operation, the police department often sets up an undercover agent or informant to pose as a sex worker. When the suspect agrees to pay for sex or hands over money, the police move in and make arrests. Police often use undercover agents as streetwalkers or set up offers of prostitution online.

In most cases, solicitation is a misdemeanor offense. However, if you are arrested for soliciting a minor or trying to purchase sex with a minor, you will likely face felony charges and criminal sex-offender registration. It is still essential to consult with a criminal defense attorney if you are facing solicitation charges.

Additional Penalties to Discourage Customers

Some states, counties, and local jurisdictions are especially harsh with their criminal penalties for suspected customers of prostitutes, including jail time and fines. Some additional actions taken by police departments may include:

  • Publishing mug shots of individuals arrested for solicitation
  • Impounding suspects' vehicles

Sex Offender Registration

In some cases, conviction on prostitution offenses can require the defendant, whether a prostitute or a customer, to register as a sex offender. In most states, misdemeanor prostitution or solicitation is not a registerable offense. However, if prostitution involved sexual assault or sexual exploitation of a minor, the defendant will generally be considered a sex offender.

registered sex offender is required to inform the local law enforcement when they move and provide annual updates. Sex offenders may be limited in where they can live and what jobs they can take. Many state sex offender registries are available for public searches, complete with offenders' names, addresses, and criminal histories.

Legal Defense Strategies

It may be too late to prevent an arrest for prostitution, but you can take steps to avoid a criminal conviction. There are several criminal defense strategies for anyone charged with prostitution or solicitation. The prosecutor may be relying on the risk of harm to your reputation to get you to accept their plea deal offer.

Your criminal defense attorney can challenge the evidence against you to show that you never intended to pay for sex. Without evidence of an agreement or payment for sex, the prosecutor may not have enough to go forward with the charges. Talk to your criminal defense lawyer about the best defense strategies in your case.

Many people go unprepared to their criminal court hearings because of shame and embarrassment. Being accused of solicitation can be difficult because your community may already consider you guilty even if you are never convicted. A criminal defense lawyer with experience in handling prostitution charges can help you avoid a criminal conviction that could harm your reputation.