What Is the Crime of Prostitution?

Street prostitute talking money
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Simply put, prostitution is providing sexual services in exchange for compensation. Sometimes called "the oldest profession," prostitution can take many forms, from streetwalkers and brothels to sophisticated call-girl or escort services and elaborate sex tourism operations. In the early 1900s, it was viewed as a profession for women who were uneducated, poor, and morally corrupted. It was just the opposite for male customers. Often they were successful, educated, financially fit and, "just being men."

Understanding Today's Laws

The laws today are fairly straight forward. In some jurisdictions, the compensation given to a prostitute in exchange for a sexual act does not have to be money, but generally, it must offer some kind of monetary value to the person receiving it. Gifts, drugs, food, or even a job are examples of compensation that has value but is not the actual exchange of money.

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. Therefore, a person who solicits prostitution agrees to provide a sexual service for compensation or actually engages in the sexual service, can be charged with a crime.

There must also be an act in furtherance, such as going to a hotel room or around the corner in order to perform the act or handing over the agreed upon fee.

For example, if a woman approaches a man in a bar and offers to provide a sexual act for a fee, and the man turns her down, she could be arrested and charged with solicitation of prostitution, but not the act of prostitution.

If an undercover police officer approached a woman and offered to pay her in exchange for a sexual favor, and the woman agreed to the terms, the police officer and the woman would have to take it to next level by, for example, meeting at an agreed place. At that point, the officer could arrest her for prostitution, without ever receiving the sexual favor. 

All Parties Can Be Charged

In most jurisdictions, the person offering sexual services is not the only one who can be charged with a crime. The person who pays for the sexual services, sometimes called a "John," can face charges of solicitation of prostitution. Any middleman involved in the transaction can be charged for pimping or pandering.

Any Sexual Activity Can Be Considered Prostitution

The crime of prostitution is not limited to any specific sexual or lewd act, but generally, the service provided must be designed to create sexual arousal, whether or not the recipient actually becomes aroused. There must be an agreed upon fee for the act.

Decriminalizing Prostitution

In every state in the U.S., prostitution is a crime with the exception of Nevada, which allows brothels, but under strict and controlled conditions. However, an effort by some to decriminalize prostitution is common. Advocates for the legalization of prostitution argue that people should have the right to earn an income by granting sexual favors if that is what they choose to do. 

They also argue that the expense of arresting and legally processing prostitutes, pimps and those looking to hire prostitutes, creates a financial burden on states without any success of stopping it from going on.

Supporters often use Nevada as an example, pointing out that If prostitution was legal, states could actually profit from it through taxation and set up regulations that would decrease sexually transmitted diseases. 

Those who are against legalizing prostitution often view it the moral corruption of society. They argue that prostitution attracts those who suffer from low self-esteem and who do not see themselves as worthy of a better life and have no other option but to trade sex for money. Rather than legalize it, they feel states should make more of an effort to improve education and help young adults set higher standards for themselves rather than to view prostitution as a viable goal.

Most feminist argue vehemently that to legalize prostitution would only promote the worst form of degradation for women and that states should make more of an effort into ending gender discrimination in the workplace.