legalities of prostitution

Inspired by a friendly debate on another board.

My Google-fu fails me. Someone has made the claim that (Las Vegas aside) it’s legal for a person to sell her body, it’s only illegal for the john to buy it. I’m a bit dubious of that, since I have a vague recollection of hearing from somewhere that women (the prostitutes) are more likely to get arrested and charged with prostitution than men (the johns). If it were legal for the prostitutes to sell themselves, then there would be nothing to charge them with, no? What’s the real deal on that?

Also, a related question: if (illegal) prostitution is the selling of sex for money, how are porn videos legal? Not only do you have people having sex for money, but you have video documentation that they did (along with, presumably, a paper trail like payroll records to prove the “got paid” part). You’d think this would be a slam-dunk to prosecute, yet I’ve never heard of it happening.

Disclaimer: I’m not looking for a debate on morality or whether or not something should/shouldn’t be legal. I’m just interested in learning about the way things actually are, currently.

For some reason, this question comes up a lot. Here’s the most recent thread asking about it (which links to an older thread, which links to more older ones):

Why is porn legal, but prostitution is not?

It is an urban legend that prostitution is legal in Las Vegas. It certainly isn’t.

However, some rural counties in Nevada have legal prostitution, and this is the the only place in the U.S. where it is legal. Prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas and Reno…

The prostitution laws are different in different states. With fifty states to choose from, I would not be at all surprised to find one where prostitution is illegal for the buyer but not the seller, or vice-versa. I couldn’t begin to tell you which state is which, though.

It’s also legal (indoors) in Rhode Island.

Isn’t the indoors where it usually happens anyway?

The short answer is that the police power is broadly preserved for the several States (subject to the Constitution) and that they are free to adopt a range of methods for attacking perceived criminal behavior from a number of angles. That means if you believe the supply is the problem, criminalize the act of supplying, if you believe demand is the problem, criminalize the act of seeking out or buying, or – to maximize the range of options for the police – criminalize it from both sides. N.B. that this also maximizes the ability to run stings (whether you think stings are ethical is another matter, but most police and prosecutors seem to believe that, esp. as to crimes such as drug use and prostitution, waiting until an actual transaction takes place and is observed by a cop is highly inefficient). So you criminalize offering prostitution so that the undercover cop can bust the streetwalker; and you criminalize solicitation so that the lady cop can put her clear heels on and bust the johns; and criminalize other variants, so as to have the widest range of police and procedural options.

To answer the OP more directly: there may or may not be some jurisdiction where solicitation is criminalized but selling sex isn’t. If so, that’s a quirk, not anything inherent in the criminal law or the Constitution. I’d wager that in most jurisdictions, both are illegal, along with a number of concomitant or related acts (living off the wages of a prostitute, lewd acts, etc.).

The crime usually isn’t the act, it’s the offer of payment and acceptance of a verbal contract. Which usually happens outside, in most cases.

On “Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels,” Gene had a plan to research prostitution and write a book about it. The cops caught him with them and threw them all in jail. Shannon had to come bail him out.

He was surprised when a couple of the “girls” turned out to be “boys.” :eek:

So you can have a strip club and make it a legal brothel, but if it had some sort of interior courtyard, then the negotiation couldn’t take place out there? :slight_smile:

I see the point (outlawing street prostitution) but it seems like it could have some silly consequences…


Statute says:

R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-34-8 (2008)

The R.I. Supreme Court said:

State v. DeMagistris, 714 A.2d 567 (R.I. 1998)

Notice that this “loophole” is based on the court’s narrow construction of the statute, and doesn’t fit neatly within the statute’s language.

The case also has an interesting factual context:

*Id. *

The Court affirmed his convictions for pot possession and obscene telephone calling.

Thanks Gfactor. It looks like the Rhode Island Supreme Court really, really twisted that law to arrive at its result. What about the term “any public or private place”? Why wouldn’t that apply to soliciting behind closed doors?

The easier thing to do in the case before it was to simply find that the defendant (who you’ll recall was calling folks on the phone) did not “*stand or wander * . . . and attempt to engage passersby in conversation, or stop or attempt to stop motor vehicles.” I would say that in order to violate this provision, you’d need to have passers-by or motor vehicles within earshot.

Here’s a Cecil column directly on point: