Thanks to Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts turned into a star almost overnight. Even though in the past she’s starred in a few other movies, they all pale in comparison with the massive success of Pretty Woman where she played the hooker with a heart of gold, Vivian Ward. Vivian was a prostitute and one day she meets businessman Edward Lewis (played by Richard Gere) who wants her to be by his side for a week. In return, he pays Vivian 3000 dollars for her services and even though sex is not part of the agreement, the two do have sex eventually.
Even though the movie is pretty old now, it does present a very interesting legal question: Can Edward and Vivian’s agreement be considered a legal contract for her time or was it perhaps an agreement to commit prostitution?
What is prostitution?
In order to better understand what happened between the two, it’s important to define prostitution first. Prostitution is a criminal act which involves the exchange of sexual acts (such as copulation, penetration or intercourse) for opportunity, commercial gain or financial gain. In nature, prostitution is illegal and the methods that are generally used in order to protect the prostitutes are unreliable at best. Most of the times, prostitutes are exploited by those who patronize their services and other individuals that demand elicit payments and fees in exchange for protection. In the world of prostitution, these individuals are known as pimps.
There are many dangers that prostitutes expose themselves to when practicing their job, including unwanted pregnancy, STDs, exploitation, abuse and also violence. On top of that, prostitution is generally mistaken for escort services which are very different from it. Individuals who work as escorts are not required to have sex with their clients and they don’t need to pay any protection fees as well.
Prostitution and Escort Services: What are the differences?
It’s very important that the boundaries between prostitution and escort services are clearly drawn, so that people understand what each of them involve. As noted above, prostitution is described as engaging in sexual intercourse or any type of lewd act with another individual in exchange for various types of benefits. Lewd acts are defined as the touching of breasts, buttocks or genitals for the purpose of arousal or sexual gratification.
There are 3 main ways someone can violate the prostitution law, including:
1. Consenting to committing an act of prostitution. This includes an act that will eventually lead to the illegal act of prostitution, such as withdrawing or borrowing money in order to pay for the sex act, driving to a location where the act is going to take place and so forth.
2. Soliciting prostitution.
3. Willfully engaging in an act of prostitution.
Therefore, if someone who lives in the state of California for instance promises an individual money in exchange for sex, when that individual accepts the promise or when other types of payment (including money) is exchanged for sex, the individual in cause can be arrested for prostitution.
What are escort services?
When it comes to escort services, this is an opportunity for both men and women to date other individuals in a public place. In this case, they’re only going to get paid in order to accompany their client or clients in a certain location (usually at social events, such as business dinners or cocktail parties). This in turn, will not violate the law in any way. In fact, there are even a few cities in California where escort services can be ran as a business. So if someone who lives in one such city wants to work as an escort, he or she can obtain a permit in order to start an escort business. It’s necessary to mention though that this is only possible if the business doesn’t breach any local or state regulations. On top of that, only individuals that haven’t been convinced of any type of sex related crimes can start an escort business for themselves.
In a case from a few years ago that concerned San Francisco’s permitting process, it was confirmed that under the state’s prostitution laws, it is not illegal for anybody to run an escort business.
Is it illegal to have consensual sex with an escort?
This is a question that definitely touches a grey area of the law and as expected, the answer is not very clear. To answer the question shortly: it depends. The hard part in proving that having sex with an escort is prostitution is if the prosecution can prove the fact that the individual who hired the escort service did so in order to eventually convince her (by means of financial gain, commercial gain or opportunity) to engage in sexual activities with him. In this case, the individual in cause can be accused and convicted of violating the law.
However, there are cases when the client didn’t do anything that could break the law, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be arrested. The only thing the police need to make the arrest is probable cause. In fact, there are many examples of such cases in the media where someone is arrested for hiring escort services and he’s eventually sued and the prosecution then spins the events in such a manner that it can look the escort was only hired for that specific purpose. As a result, the individual can be convicted.
Potential illegality within escort services
Even though a lot of escorts carefully advertise their services, it seems that there are plenty of lobbyists and individuals that do take investigative measures in regards to the implications of possible sexual activity, even though it’s absent from the advertisements themselves.
Escort services and solicitation
Solicitation is defined as an illegal act considered by a party which involves the coercion of another entity or party to engage in criminal activity. While in their advertisements escorts do not advertise sex, in various cases, illegal and criminal activities can be implicit. Whether that may be true or not, it’s generally going to be uncovered after the relationship between the client and the escort is properly investigated.
Speaking of advertising, escorts can openly market their services, which is something that prostitutes cannot, since advertising sexual services is illegal. It cannot be done on billboards nor can be it done on the internet, on telephone poles or in any other public place for that matter. As a prostitute, you can only advertise your services by word of mouth. Given the fact that escort businesses are all about companionship, those who run such businesses can advertise it publicly, anywhere they want, unless the area is exclusively meant for children. As a result, escorts have a much easier way of getting clients and earning a living.
In fact, the majority of escorts have a website as well, since it’s a very easy way for potential clients to find them and hire them. An escort can also be booked for any length of time the client needs her. What’s a bit worrisome though is the fact that such websites usually attract their clientele by using erotic photographs, yet given the fact escorts don’t engage in sexual activities with their clients, they’re not breaking the law. Criminal activities undertaken by escort services should always be reported
Even though escort services and their activities are legal, there are some of them that may offer illegal activity that’s akin to prostitution. Therefore, if someone has been made aware of such activities performed by an escort service, he should get in touch with the appropriate government department as soon as possible.