Prostitution itself is legal in the UK: a person can buy sexual services and working as a private prostitute or outcall escort is legal – but many related activities are not. This includes kerb crawling, pimping, keeping a brothel, advertising the services of call girls by placing cards (“tart cards”) in phone boxes and having sex in public. The laws apply to both male and female prostitutes and male and female clients.
Under the Street Offences Act 1959, it is illegal for a prostitute to wait for or solicit business in a street or public place, effectively making street prostitution illegal. Although assistance should be given to assist offenders in finding a route out of prostitution, prostitutes may be punished. Usually first or second time offenders will be cautioned, third and fourth time offenders are usually arrested and charged and on the fifth offence an anti-social behaviour order may be issued on conviction.
People under 18 are primarily treated as victims of abuse and the procedure may differ from what is outlined above.
Legal definition of a prostitute
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines a prostitute as a person who has offered or given services of a sexual nature to another person in return for financial gain on one or more occasions.
Pimping is controlling prostitutes for financial gain. A pimp profits from the work of prostitutes under their control. If a person is convicted of exploiting the prostitution of others, they may face imprisonment under the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Sentence will be determined based on the extent to which the prostitute has been coerced and the involvement of the person in the exploitation of the prostitute.
If there is evidence of mental or physical coercion, the person may be sentenced to between two and five years.
If there is no coercion but the offender is closely involved in the prostitution of the victim, then the person may face from 26 weeks up to two years in custody.
Where there is no coercion and the involvement of the offender is only very small, there is no custodial sentence.
The same law that makes pimping illegal also means that escort agencies are illegal when an agency controls the escorts. Working as an outcall escort is legal.
It is an offence for someone to keep, manage or assist in the management of a brothel. Included in this is a landlord or tenant allowing a premises to be used as a brothel. A brothel is defined as a place where two or more prostitutes work. The people working do not need to charge for sexual services for a premises to be classed as a brothel. The offence carries a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison, though the role played by the offender will be taken into consideration (a receptionist will probably not be charged as severely as a brothel owner or someone more essential to the running of a brothel).
For more information on:
- Clients and the law
- Kerb crawling
- The future