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What is the Difference Between a Prostitute and an Escort Under Texas Law?

Prostitute vs. Escort in Texas Legal Framework

We often separate prostitutes and escorts in our minds. When we think of a "prostitute," we picture someone on a street corner calling out, "Hey, baby! Want a date?!" But when we picture an "escort," we may think of high-priced call girls arranged through some mysterious and exclusive agency, like Laurie, the fictional law student and escort that Sam Seaborn dated in the TV show The West Wing. Escorts are typically paid for their time, while prostitutes are paid for sex. But if an escort agrees to have sex with their date after an event, it's still considered prostitution under Texas law. Under Texas law, you could face a felony charge for soliciting prostitution whether you hire a prostitute or an escort.

The Problem With Prostitution

According to the Texas Attorney General's office, every year, people post more than 1.6 million online sex ads, and officials believe that more than 230,000 of those ads sell children. Human trafficking has become a huge problem in Texas, with the exploitation of women, children, and men for forced sex for money by a third person. Unfortunately, many people involved in the sex trade are victims of human trafficking, and the state reports that up to 30% of sex trafficking victims are children, many of them also victims of international sex trafficking.

The biggest risk factors that can make a child or young person susceptible to sex trafficking include running away from home and substance abuse. With greater awareness about sex trafficking, the Texas legislature recently overhauled our state prostitution laws to crack down on soliciting prostitution and the sex trafficking trade. While the intent of the Texas legislature is admirable, people who make mistakes without understanding the serious consequences of human trafficking or the legal penalties can face felony charges. If you're facing felony prostitution charges, you could face severe penalties, large fines, and time in jail. In the long term, you could lose your personal and professional reputation, job, career, and family.

Texas Prostitution Felonies

While prostitution is typically a misdemeanor for a first offense, soliciting prostitution is much more serious. Because of the prevalence of underage and vulnerable people in the prostitution trade, Texas law treats convictions for prostitution seriously. Your first offense for soliciting prostitution will be a state jail felony, punishable by up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Prostitution in Texas

First and second prostitution charges are typically misdemeanor crimes in Texas. Someone commits prostitution "if the person knowingly offers or agrees to receive a fee from another to engage in sexual conduct." Tex. Penal Code § 43.02 (2021). However, after three or more previous convictions for prostitution, a prostitution charge becomes a state jail felony. You could also face a state jail felony or third-degree felony charge if it happens near a school or school function or an event held by the University Interscholastic League. The penalties for prostitution include:

  • Class B Misdemeanor: No more than 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine
  • Class A Misdemeanor: No more than one year in jail and a $4,000 fine
  • State Jail Felony: 180 days to two years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine
  • Third-degree Felony: Two to ten years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine

Soliciting Prostitution in Texas

Texas law treats soliciting prostitution far more severely than prostitution itself. The intent is to punish those who solicit prostitutes more seriously than those who accept money for sex or sexual acts. Given the vulnerability of many prostitutes, this disparity in the law makes sense. "Solicitation of prostitution" happens under Texas law if someone "knowingly offers or agrees to pay a fee to another person for the purpose of engaging in sexual conduct with that person or another. Tex. Penal Code § 43.021 (2021). Soliciting prostitution in Texas is a felony, even for a first offense.

  • First Offense: A first offense for soliciting prostitution is a state jail felony, punishable by up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine,
  • Second or Subsequent Offense: A second or subsequent offense for soliciting prostitution is a third-degree felony, punishable by two to ten years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine,
  • Prostitute Under 18: If the prostitute is under 18, claims to be under 18, or the john believes they are under 18, this is a second-degree felony, punishable by two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

If convicted of soliciting prostitution in Texas, you will spend a minimum of six months in jail. That's why it's essential that you hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as you're arrested.

Promotion of Prostitution

Promoting prostitution or "pimping" prostitutes out is also a felony in Texas. A person commits the crime of promoting prostitution if:

  • They aren't a prostitute taking money for services they personally rendered, and
  • They receive money or other compensation as part of an agreement to "participate in the proceeds of prostitution," or
  • They solicit someone else to engage in "sexual conduct with another person for compensation."

Tex. Pen. Code § 43.03(a) (2019). The penalties for pimping in Texas are serious.

  • Third-degree Felony: Pimping is typically a third-degree felony in Texas if no aggravating circumstances are involved. A conviction for pimping is punishable by two to ten years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
  • Second-degree Felony: Pimping becomes a second-degree felony if you have a prior conviction for promoting prostitution. A conviction is punishable by two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
  • First-degree Felony: Pimping becomes a first-degree felony if the individual pimped out is under 18, regardless of whether you knew their age at the time. A conviction for a first-degree offense in Texas is punishable by five to 99 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

If convicted of promoting prostitution in Texas, you will spend time in jail. That's why you need a skilled criminal defense attorney immediately.

Online Promotion of Prostitution

These days, everything happens online. That's why the Texas legislature created a special section of the penal code to address the problem of promoting prostitution online. A person commits the crime of online promotion of prostitution if:

The person owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service or information content provider or operates as an information content provider with the intent to promote the prostitution of another person or facilitate another person to engage in prostitution or solicitation of prostitution.

Tex. Pen. Code § 43.031 (2021). The language of this statute is quite broad, meaning that anyone who posts online ads, offers online chats, or creates or manages online websites intending to promote prostitution online or allow someone else to do so can be guilty of the crime.

Online promotion of prostitution is typically a third-degree felony, punishable by two to ten years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. However, if the person pimped out is under 18, regardless of whether the person charged knew their age, it is a second-degree felony. A second-degree felony conviction in Texas can result in two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Sex-Oriented Businesses in Texas

As part of the state's recent overhaul of Texas prostitution laws, the legislature added new prohibitions to the people other sex-oriented businesses can employ. Sex-oriented businesses include strip clubs, adult bookstores, sex novelty shops, webcam agencies, and other "sexually oriented commercial activity." Now, these businesses must ban people under 18 from the premises. Strip clubs and other businesses engaged in "sexually oriented commercial activity" can no longer hire anyone between 18 and 20 to work topless, nude, or in any other sexual manner. Doing so is now a second-degree felony, punishable by two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Contact Our Harris County Prostitution Charges Defense Attorney

The police in Houston won't care if you hired a prostitute or an escort. If you pay someone for sex or sexual acts, the result is the same, and it's illegal in Texas. While there can be serious penalties for felony charges for prostitution, soliciting a prostitute, and promoting prostitution, you are still innocent until proven guilty. But you need an aggressive defense from a skilled attorney as soon as possible. Attorney Doug Murphy is Board Certified in Criminal Defense Law and DWI Defense Law, and he is one of only two attorneys in Texas holding both of these Board Certifications.

Doug has also been named to U.S. News & World Report's list of the Best Lawyers in America for Houston DWI defense. Doug and the experienced team at the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. have been defending the people of Texas from prostitution and other criminal charges for years, and we can help you too. Contact us online or call 713-229-8333 to schedule a consultation.

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