In the late 2000-and-teens, the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”) focused less on prostitution arrests. During Covid, prostitution arrests in Los Angeles seemed to evaporate altogether. There was not much happening in the way of prostitution or solicitation enforcement. However, as of 2023, there is a new administration at the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office and they have once again ramped up prosecutions of prostitution cases.
Prostitution, the exchange of sexual services for money or something else of value, is a controversial and heavily regulated practice around the world. In the United States, individual states possess the authority to determine the legality and framework for such activities within their jurisdiction. California, being the most populous state, has developed a specific legal framework to address prostitution and related criminal offenses.
Prostitution in California is defined as the act of engaging or agreeing to engage in sexual activity in exchange for money or other forms of compensation. Under California law, prostitution is a misdemeanor criminal offense. It is important to note that both parties, the buyer (commonly referred to as a “john” or a “client”) and the seller (commonly known as a “prostitute” or “sex worker”), can be held liable for engaging in prostitution-related activities.
The penalties in prostitution-related cases in California can vary depending on the specific circumstances and the defendant’s criminal history. Generally, a first-time offense of prostitution is charged as a misdemeanor, carrying potential penalties of up to six months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Subsequent convictions may result in increased jail time and higher fines. Additionally, defendants may be required to attend mandatory HIV/AIDS education and counseling programs.
California’s prostitution laws have faced legal challenges in recent years, with debates centered around decriminalization and the rights of sex workers. Advocates argue that criminalization disproportionately affects marginalized communities, perpetuates violence and stigma, and hinders access to healthcare and social services. As a response, some cities in California, such as San Francisco, have implemented policies that prioritize harm reduction and provide support to sex workers.
In the city of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Department has a specialized vice unit that conducts sting operations in areas believed to have high levels of prostitution activity (Van Nuys and Sepulveda Boulevards in the San Fernando Valley, Western Avenue in south L.A., and various operations in hotel bars throughout Hollywood and near the LAX airport). Common enforcement methods include undercover operations where officers pose as potential clients or sex workers to gather evidence. Online platforms and classified advertisements have also become focal points for law enforcement investigations. Lately, police have targeted strip clubs for suspected prostitution activity.
If you’re facing a prostitution charge or criminal charges related to prostitution, it is important to remember that you often can fight the case. Prostitution is a crime of words. There needs to be evidence of a communication of the agreement. This communication almost always occurs verbally and in person. As a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, I have been handling these cases for over 15 years and I have never once seen or even heard of an LAPD prostitution case that was recorded. That’s something to keep in mind before you take a plea deal in a prostitution case.
California’s prostitution laws reflect the state’s approach to regulating and controlling the exchange of sexual services for compensation. While prostitution remains criminalized, recent debates and legal challenges have brought attention to the need for alternative approaches, such as decriminalization and harm reduction strategies. As the social and legal landscapes continue to evolve, it is essential to consider the diverse perspectives and impacts of these laws on individuals involved in the sex industry. In the City of Los Angeles, first time offenders are generally offered diversion programs where they can attend a class, submit to an HIV test and agree not to sustain a new arrest for a year.
In 2021, a bill known as Senate Bill 357 was introduced in the California legislature, aiming to decriminalize prostitution for consenting adults and shift the focus towards addressing exploitation and human trafficking. However, it did not pass. This is unfortunate. Prostitution convictions, while they may not involve jail time and only carry one year of informal probation, can carry significant collateral consequences. They can impact immigration status, employment and child custody. Again, this is why nobody should ever accept a California prostitution conviction or enter a diversion program until they fully understand all the consequences and potential impacts on their life.
If you have been accused of prostitution or solicitation or have questions about your rights, call Los Angeles prostitution defense lawyer Jerod Gunsberg at (323) 633-3423 for a free and confidential consultation or get in touch via the secure contact form on this page. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.