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Prostitution Laws in California


What is Prostitution? 

Prostitution is a sex crime to buy or sell sexual intercourse or a lewd act with another person in exchange for money or something else of value. A lewd act is defined as any sexual contact involving the genitals, buttocks, or female breast for the purpose of either sexual arousal or gratification. 

A person commits prostitution by doing one of the following: 

  • Participating in a sex act in exchange for money or something else in value 

  • Agreeing to participate in a sex act for money 

  • Soliciting (i.e., requesting the services of a prostitute) for money 

Keep in mind, if a person agrees to engage in prostitution and does some act towards committing prostitution, he/she can be charged with disorderly conduct. For example, if a person enters the car of someone who offered money for sex, that could be considered disorderly conduct. 

Is Prostitution Legal in California? 

Prostitution is illegal in California. Although a new law that went into effect in January 2020 changed what kind of evidence (e.g., possession of condoms) can be used to prosecute a prostitution charge and gives sex workers immunity from criminal charges if they report a serious crime, the legislation did not decriminalize the act of offering a sexual favor for money or something of value. 

What are the Penalties for Prostitution? 

Prostitution or solicitation is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum jail term of six months and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Furthermore, a person who obtains or requests the services of an underage prostitute (i.e., younger than 18 years old) can be fined a maximum of $25,000. 

What is Pimping & Pandering? 

Pimping means making money from prostitution, while pandering means facilitating or promoting prostitution. Pimping and pandering can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. 

A person commits misdemeanor pimping and pandering by: 

  • Recruiting, supervising, directing, or otherwise helping another person engage in prostitution 

  • Receiving or collecting money earned from prostitution 

  • Causing someone to visit a place of prostitution 

A person commits felony pimping and pandering by: 

  • Living off or making from a prostitute’s earnings 

  • Soliciting customers for a prostitute 

  • Procuring someone for the purpose of prostitution or to work in a house of prostitution 

  • Forcing or encouraging through violence or threats to engage in prostitution or work in a house of prostitution 

  • Causing someone to come in or out of the state to engage in prostitution 

  • Giving, receiving, or agreeing to give or receive money to procure a person for prostitution 

What are the Penalties for Pimping & Pandering? 

Misdemeanor pimping and pandering are punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. Causing someone to visit a place of prostitution carries a jail term of up to six months and a maximum fine of $500. 

In contrast, felony pimping and pandering carries a prison sentence between two and six years, as well as a fine of up to $5,000. However, felony pimping and pandering a minor under 15 years old is punishable by imprisonment for between three and eight years. 

Human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution and taking someone for prostitution punishable by imprisonment between 16 months and three years, as well as a fine of up to $2,000. 

If you have been accused of prostitution in Santa Barbara, call Appel & Morse at (805) 467-6060 or fill out our online contact form today to schedule a free consultation. Get two former prosecutors on your side! 

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