Prostitution is the criminal act of providing, or offering to provide, sexual services in exchange for compensation. Prostitution laws penalize those who sell sexual services, as well as those who purchase the services. Laws are also in place to punish those who arrange prostitution, or benefit from it in any way. To explore this concept, consider the following prostitution definition.

Definition of Prostitution


  1. Practicing or engaging in sexual activity in exchange for money or other compensation.


1545-1555  Late Latin prōstitūtiōn-

What is Prostitution

Prostitution, often referred to as the “oldest profession in the world,” is the act of exchanging money or other compensation for sexual services. Prostitution is illegal in all states except for Nevada, where it is regulated by very strict laws. Prostitution laws specify that offering, agreeing to, or engaging in a sexual act, in exchange for money or other consideration, is illegal.

For an individual to be charged with a prostitution-related crime, it is not necessary for money to actually change hands, or for offered sexual services to actually be provided. For a successful prosecution for prostitution charges, the prosecutor need only prove there was an intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.

Prostitution Related Crimes

The business of the sex trade industry is both prolific and widespread. Offering and receiving sexual services for payment are not the only crimes associated with prostitution. In fact, prostitution laws also prohibit a wide range of activities that facilitate or foster the crime of prostitution. These include:

  • Operating or residing in a house used for prostitution purposes
  • Renting or leasing a house or other abode for prostitution purposes
  • Procuring a person to travel for prostitution purposes
  • Transporting or leading an individual to a place used for prostitution
  • Allowing a minor to enter, or sending a minor to, a house used for prostitution
  • Forcing or coercing a person to engage in prostitution against his or her will

Federal laws also state that transporting an individual across state lines, with the intent of having him or her engage in criminal sexual activity, is illegal and punishable by law.

Prostitution Penalties

Prostitution itself, whether offering sexual acts, or paying for sexual acts, is usually categorized as a misdemeanor. However, most acts that promote prostitution, including pimping and pandering, are usually charged as felonies. The penalties for any crime of prostitution involving minor children are much more severe than those involving only adults.

Prostitution penalties vary, depending on several factors, including whether the defendant has a criminal history. On average, penalties for engaging in prostitution, either as a prostitute or a customer, called a “john,” can include fines, and range from probation to a year or more in a county jail. Since prostitution is closely related to drug use and other crimes, the court may also order the defendant to enter a rehabilitative program. If a person is arrested on multiple occasions for prostitution, or other sex trade offenses, the penalties become much harsher.

Penalties for those engaging in facilitation of prostitution, such as pimping and pandering, face much more serious consequences. These include hefty fines, often as much as $10,000, and the potential for many years in prison. As of 2015, a person engaging in prostitution is not required to register as a sex offender unless there is a minor child involved.

Why is Prostitution Illegal

Supporters of prostitution argue that it is a “victimless crime,” as those involved are often two consenting adults. Lawmakers and the majority of the public see prostitution differently, however. Commonly, it is viewed as harmful to the individuals involved, and to society as a whole. Prostitution laws are aimed at preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, protecting minors who might become involved in, or forced into the sex trade, and to deter other crimes that are often committed in conjunction with prostitution. Many people also believe that prostitution exploits women.

Real Life Prostitution Cases

Cases related to prostitution and the sex trade plague courts across the U.S. and around the globe. Judges stretch sentencing in their attempts to adequately punish those guilty of luring or forcing others into prostitution.

Prostitution and Sex Trafficking of a Minor

On February 27, 2015, Chief U.S. District Judge, Fred Biery, broke down as he told the courtroom that the case of “physical and psychological theft of innocence of children” by four people convicted of trafficking minors as escorts was the most egregious case he had heard in his 21 years on the federal bench.

In three separate trials of four defendants, prosecutors painted a picture of greed, addiction, and sex, promoted by modern technology, when they recruited underage girls into prostitution, advertising them over the Internet as escorts. The only victim presented at trial testified that the defendants inducted her into the world of prostitution when she was fifteen. One of the defendants, an Army Lt.-Colonel, paid the victim twice for sex in a hotel room, under the auspices of conducting research on sex trafficking.

Judge Biery sentenced the lone female defendant, who had herself been lured into prostitution by one of the other defendants, to 6 months already served, plus 20 years of federal probation. Another defendant received 18 years in prison, plus 20 years of federal supervision.

The defendant considered to be the mastermind, convicted of sex trafficking multiple girls, and producing child pornography, disputed everything from his own lengthy criminal history, to the victims’ stories. Judge Biery hammered this defendant with two life sentences, plus 30 years, each sentence to run consecutively. This means that the defendant must complete each sentence before the next begins.

Facilitating Prostitution through a Website

In 2010, a 53-year-old California man, Eric Omura, decided it would be profitable to operate a website connecting prostitutes with clients. Omura’s website allowed prostitutes to advertise their services, and accepted payment from clients for “enhanced access” to prostitute reviews, advanced search options, and VIP forums, among other things. The website hosted explicit photos, and graphic descriptions of available sex services, as well as rates.

On investigation, the FBI succeeded in identifying more than 50 juveniles advertising on Omura’s website for the purpose of prostitution. In the nation’s first successful federal prosecution of a website operator for facilitating prostitution, Omura entered into a plea bargain in which he pled guilty, and forfeited nearly $1.3 million in cash and property. In addition, Omura was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Criminal Act – An act committed by an individual that is in violation of the law, or that poses a threat to the public.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Felony – A crime, often involving violence, regarded as more serious than a misdemeanor. Felony crimes are usually punishable by imprisonment more than one year.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Misdemeanor – A criminal offense less serious than a felony; generally those punishable by a fine, probation, community service, or imprisonment of less than one year.
  • Sex Offender – A person convicted of a crime involving sex, including rape, molestation, and production or distribution of child pornography.

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