California prostitution laws

With a population of over 37 million people, California legislators must be very specific and particular about all laws they set forth for the state’s residents, especially with offenses like prostitution that have lots of gray areas. Just like in all 50 states in the US, prostitution is illegal, as is pimping, pandering and loitering. While those found guilty of a prostitution misdemeanor only face 1 year in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000, more serious consequences await those who are convicted of felony prostitution offenses.

Prostitution Definitions

Three significant terms help to define laws prohibiting prostitution in California. The first is to “Commit Prostitution.” To commit prostitution means that a person engages in sexual conduct with another person in exchange for something valuable or money. The valuable can be defined as shelter, food, clothing, jewelry, drugs or anything else agreed up as valuable between two people. There is one exclusion to this definition that is listed in the law. Any sexual conduct performed as a result of a performance in a play, stage production or other entertainment venue open to the public is excluded in this definition.

“Public Place” becomes an important definition when considering California prostitution laws. Defined as any place open to the public, it includes parks, plazas, alleys, driveways, still or moving automobiles, parking lots and doorways to buildings.

The last significant term explicitly defined is “Loiter.” Anyone who is observed as delaying or lingering in a specific location without lawful purpose is considered to be loitering. Anyone loitering may be accused of soliciting prostitution by offering the services or requesting services from others in the area. This definition also includes if someone circles a specific area, such as a street corner or park, in an automobile and beckons to passersby for the purpose of prostitution.

Prostitution Law

General “business” transactions between a prostitute and her/his customer are considered misdemeanors punishable with up to 1 year in the county/city jail and/or a fine up to $1,000.

More serious ramifications are faced when the offense takes on a felony charge. The standard pimp/brothel ownership laws entail a punishment of 3 to 6 years in prison.

Any prostitution engagement that involves the use of violence, coercion, threats, physical force, fraud or taking the advantage of sensitive relationships can result in a prison sentence of 3, 4 or 6 years. The same sort of sentence is involved when a minor under the age of 16 years old is involved.

All felony convictions are subject to imposition of a fine. The fine may be as high as $5,000. Several considerations are used when imposing a fine. Determining factors include whether or not the defendant benefited financially from the situation; how serious the offense was and the circumstances under which it was committed; and how badly the victim suffered and what losses were incurred. All fines may be subject to a 2-percent administrative fee used for collection purposes. All fines go to support the Victim-Witness Assistance Fund which helps provide for child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation counseling centers. It also helps to support prevention programs.


The following Nevada counties have their own laws and regulations on prostitution:

Prostitution laws in US cities:

Prostitution laws in Canada