Whether or not escorts are legal in California is often a complex question, as it depends on many factors. Most people connect escorts with prostitution for good reasons, but there is a difference between the two.
However, there is a thin line, almost invisible, between an escort and a prostitute. One side of the line is legal, while the other is not.
Under California law, escorts are legal, defined as offering someone's time in exchange for companionship and money or some other type of compensation.
Simply put, California laws permit escorts to offer their services at a fee, but they have to apply for a license to work legally. Without a valid license, it's a crime for an escort to provide services.
It's not illegal to trade companionship for money. Often, escorts are hired to accompany clients at events, dates, or just for some social interaction. However, escorts can't legally engage in sexual activity with clients as part of their services.
California Penal Code 647(b) PC prostitution law says, “Anyone who solicits or agrees to engage in any act of prostitution with the intent to receive compensation, money, or anything of value from another person is guilty of a misdemeanor crime.”
Prostitution and solicitation are misdemeanors that carry a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in the county jail for a first and second-time conviction. If the prostitute was a minor, the penalties carry up to a $10,000 fine and up to one year in jail.
Escorts can't legally agree to engage in sexual acts for compensation. However, if you decide to hire an escort and ask for sex in exchange for money, then you could be charged with solicitation. Let's review this topic in more detail below.
Are Escort Services Regulated in California?
As noted, escorts must be licensed, which involves a background check. Suppose an escort engages in prostitution or the escort service allows it. In that case, the escort could lose their license and face criminal charges.
Suppose an escort offers their services without having a license. In that case, they could face charges for escorting without a license. Further, escort agencies can face harsh penalties if they permit or encourage sexual activity with clients.
For example, escort agency owners could face misdemeanor charges under Penal Code 653.23 PC for supervising or aiding a prostitute or Penal Code 266h and 266i PC pimping and pandering if they collect a commission from prostitution activity.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Several other California crimes are related to escorting and prostitution, such as the following:
- Penal Code 653.22 PC – loitering for prostitution,
- Penal Code 647(a) PC – lewd conduct in public,
- Penal Code 236.1 PC – human trafficking,
- Penal Code 314 PC – indecent exposure,
- Penal Code 261 PC – rape,
- Penal Code 261.5 PC – statutory rape.
When Does Escorting Turn Into a Crime?
As noted, being an escort or hiring one is not illegal. However, escorting becomes unlawful in the following situations:
- When the escort offers or agrees to engage in any sex, such as sexual intercourse, oral copulation, or making contact with genitals or female breasts;
- When the client requests sexual activity from the escort, including any sex, it is a crime of solicitation.
Notably, sexual contact is not required to face charges under Penal Code 647(b) solicitation of prostitution. However, when there is an offer or agreement for sex in exchange for compensation, a crime has occurred.
Suppose an escort agrees to sexual activity after their escorting time has expired. While this is a gray area of the law, if police and prosecutors believe that the elements of the crime of prostitution exist, they could still charge the escort of their client under Penal Code 647(b) PC.
It should be noted that it's not necessary for money exchange for an escort and client relationship to exist, and it turns into a crime of prostitution.
As noted, if the prosecutor can prove there was an agreement for sex in exchange for any compensation, criminal charges can be filed. The compensation could be money, property, drugs, or anything of value.
What Are the Defenses?
If you are facing criminal charges of prostitution or solicitation related to escorting, our California criminal defense attorneys could use several strategies, as discussed below.
Maybe we can argue that nothing of value was offered or exchanged for sex. Perhaps there was no agreement, or one side refused an offer for sex.
Maybe we can make a reasonable argument for police entrapment. For example, suppose a sting operation designed to catch “johns” exceed their legal authority by persuading people to make a sexual agreement with an undercover police officer posing as an escort.
In that case, we could make an entrapment argument that could result in the dismissal of the charges. “Entrapment” means enticing someone to commit a crime they would not otherwise commit.
Maybe we can argue that you were only seeking a sexual encounter, and there was never an intent to exchange sex for compensation. Perhaps we could say you had no idea the person was a prostitute.
Maybe we could negotiate prefiling to persuade the prosecution not to file formal criminal charges in the first place after showing them there is insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. To review the case details in a free consultation, you can contact us by phone or through the contact form. Cron, Israels & Stark are based in Los Angeles, CA.