Prostitution has been illegal in California since 1872. However, despite the over-a-century-long history, some sex workers claim that engaging in sexual activity for money is part of their right to earn a living. A sex workers’ advocacy group, the Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project, is seeking to decriminalize prostitution and has filed a constitutional challenge to the anti-prostitution law in California, saying it violates constitutional protections on free speech, freedom of association, and due process. The plaintiffs also include three unidentified former prostitutes and a disabled man who says he wants to be a respectful client of erotic services.
Citing the landmark 2003 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down the sodomy law in the state of Texas, the plaintiffs in this case argue that sexual conduct among consenting adults is a “fundamental right.”
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled that the legal challenge may proceed.
A change in the status of sex workers could have a big impact on California beyond escorts and prostitutes. Deterring human trafficking is one reason that state authorities have cited for keeping the law as is. Currently, prostitution is illegal in all 50 states with the exception of a few Nevada counties.
Current California Law on Prostitution:
California Penal Code § 647(b) explicitly prohibits:
- Engaging in the act of prostitution, and
- Offering or agreeing to engage in the act of prostitution.
The crime of prostitution or solicitation of it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months imprisonment and a $1000 fine. However, California law does not automatically require registration as a sex offender if you have been convicted of prostitution.
California Penal Code § 653.22 further makes it a crime punishable by six months imprisonment to loiter to commit prostitution (i.e. standing in a street corner).
Entrapment occurs when police behave in a way that applies pressure or defrauds you to engage in behavior you otherwise would not have. Entrapment defenses are sometimes used, since a number of prostitution/solicitation arrests are made by undercover cops. Many defendants are unfairly lured by saavy cops.
Other Related Crimes
California Penal Code § 266 covers the crimes of “pimping” and pandering, while California Penal Code § 647(a) covers lewd conduct in public. Lewd conduct occurs when someone engages in a sexual act in public. Continue reading