3 minute read


Commercial Sex: Repression Or Legalization?, Hollywood Madam, Further Readings

The act of offering one's self for hire to engage in sexual relations.

Prostitution is illegal in all states except Nevada, where it is strictly regulated. Some state statutes punish the act of prostitution, and other state statutes criminalize the acts of soliciting prostitution, arranging for prostitution, and operating a house of prostitution. On the federal level, the MANN ACT (18 U.S.C.A. § 2421 [as amended 1986] makes it a crime to transport a person in interstate or foreign commerce for the

purpose of prostitution or for any other immoral purpose.

Prostitution, historically and currently a trade largely practiced by women, was not a distinct offense in colonial America. A prostitute could be arrested for VAGRANCY if she were loitering on the streets, but generally, the act of engaging in sex for money was not itself a crime.

The first prostitution statutes were enacted during the so-called Progressive political movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Urban areas experienced unprecedented growth during this period. Cities became the centers of industrial manufacturing and production, and they were quickly ravaged by disease and poverty. The Progressive movement emphasized education and instituted new government controls over the activities of the general population. The movement introduced the PROHIBITION of alcohol, which was banned from 1919 to 1933, vested government with increased power over the lives of poor persons, and created a host of new criminal laws, including laws on prostitution. Prostitution increased during this period, and it was seen as one of the biggest threats to public health because of its potential to spread debilitating venereal diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea. Prostitutes were viewed as moral failures. The male customers of prostitutes were not held up to scorn, but the women who practiced prostitution were seen as responsible for increases in crime and the general decay of social morals.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, states began to encourage the arrest of prostitutes for such crimes as vagrancy and loitering. Congress passed the Mann Act in 1910, which criminalized interstate prostitution, and state legislatures made prostitution a distinct criminal offense. The prostitute, not the customer, was the first to be penalized on the state and local levels; statutes that criminalized the solicitation of prostitution were passed later.

Historically, the enforcement of prostitution laws focused on apprehension of the prostitute. In the 1960s and 1970s, perhaps as a result of heightened social discourse on the issue of prostitution, police departments became more vigilant in their pursuit of customers. Local police in urban areas now regularly conduct "sting" operations designed to catch solicitors through the use of undercover agents posing as prostitutes. Many states have FORFEITURE statutes that give law enforcement agencies the power to seize and gain ownership of vehicles used by customers of prostitutes, and alleged customers may find their pictures published in the local newspaper.

All jurisdictions have made their prostitution statutes gender-neutral, but the prostitution relationship still usually consists of a man paying a woman for sex. There are occasional variations of the sexual identities of the participants in contemporary society, but, by and large, a prostitute is still more likely to be a woman or a girl. An increasing amount of prostitution occurs off the street by organized escort services, and prostitutes from these services have some measure of control over their lives. However, many prostitutes still work on the street, living a desperate, brutal, dangerous life at the mercy of a promoter, or pimp. Because the prostitute usually is a woman or a girl, and because prostitution can wreak havoc on the life of the prostitute, the issue of prostitution has become a matter of concern for WOMEN'S RIGHTS advocates.


Sex Offenses; Vice Crimes.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Prohibition Party to Pure theory of law