Many confuse escorting and prostitution or use them interchangeably to refer to the same conduct. However, escorting and prostitution are different under California law. Many illegal prostitution enterprises try to use these differences to masquerade as legal “escorting” services when they aren’t. This guide will go over distinguishing prostitution and escorting and avoid even the opportunity to engage in prostitution.

Prostitution is Illegal

Many people know that prostitution is illegal. Under the law, prostitution includes any lewd act between people for money or other compensation. A lewd act is a sexual act and can consist of oral sex, sexual intercourse, or sexual touching. Other compensation could be anything of value to the receiver, including other property, drugs or alcohol, or services like giving valuable information or promising another action.

It is illegal to solicit or agree to engage in prostitution. In California, you can be charged with a misdemeanor for prostitution, where the penalty for a first offense is up to six months in jail. Subsequent offenses may include mandatory jail time and no option for probation, early release, or work furlough. Prostitution can also have negative consequences on your reputation and career.

Under the law, the sexual act doesn’t have to occur for a person to be charged with prostitution. You could be texting with the other person and show up to a hotel room or residence and be arrested for simply being at the location if they can verify you used your phone to set up the exchange. This is because the agreement to exchange the sexual act for prostitution could come either before or after the sexual act itself. Therefore, even if the parties haven’t solicited or agreed to engage in prostitution yet, but they’ve taken steps like preparing money or some other form of compensation and have gone to meet with the intent of soliciting prostitution, they may still be charged.

Bath Houses, Massage Parlors, and other Massage Businesses

Someone could still be charged with prostitution even when they pay a third party, such as a clerk or staff person at a massage business if a sexual act is committed in exchange for that money. No matter who initiates the sexual contact, a person could still face criminal punishment.

There are several ways an individual could become involved in prostitution and/or soliciting a prostitute. In some important instances, a person could otherwise not intend to involve themselves in prostitution but still be charged for such an act. For example, if a person were to go to a massage parlor and pay someone at the front desk for the service but then later, when dealing with the masseuse, have sexual contact of some sort, they could still face criminal charges for prostitution.

The fact that a third party is involved in the payment process does not change the criminal liability for prostitution. Along the same lines, the masseuse could initiate the sexual contact, but both parties are equally engaged in prostitution. For example, if a person receiving a massage were to be touched sexually by the masseuse and both parties agree to engage in a sexual act, it is reasonable and foreseeable that the receiver of the massage could be charged with engaging in prostitution.

Escorting is Legal in Most Situations

Escorting refers to a service where a person offers another their companionship or time in exchange for a fee or other compensation. Under California law, this is a permitted service because the person offering the service is being paid for their time. The escort needs to have a license to provide legal escorting services. If escorting involves a criminal act, the agreement for escorting does not make the criminal act legal.

There are situations where escorting can become prostitution or where parties try to masquerade prostitution as escorting. Any agreement for escorting that includes an agreement or solicitation of prostitution is prostitution. If an agreement for escorting leads to engaging in prostitution, then the parties can be charged with prostitution. It doesn’t matter if the agreement, solicitation, or act of prostitution comes before, during, or after the escorting service provided. To avoid this possibility, escorts providing legal services should have a clearly defined contract with the party paying for the service and clearly lay out that there will be no agreement, solicitation, or acts of prostitution or sexual conduct as part of the escorting services provided.

Not every agreement of escorting that leads to a sexual act is considered prostitution. If there’s no compensation offered or given for the sexual act, and both parties consent to a sexual act, then the sexual act is not prostitution.

Even if you are ultimately convicted of prostitution or solicitation, it is possible to have your record cleaned up.

If you have any questions about the difference between escorting and prostitution, would like to learn how to clear up your record, or want to talk to experienced criminal defense attorneys about your situation, you can contact Lamano Law Office at (510) 842-0750 or