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Why is Prostitution a Felony in Texas?

When people think of prostitution, they often picture Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, a romanticized version of a "hooker" and a "john." But the reality is much starker. According to the Office of the Attorney General of Texas, people posted 1.6 million online commercial sex ads in Texas. More than 230,000 of those were believed to sell children. Human trafficking is the exploitation of women, children, and men for forced sex or labor by a third person for profit. The unfortunate reality is that many of those involved in prostitution are victims of sex trafficking.

Because sex trafficking is so prevalent in Texas, the Texas Legislature sought to crack down on prostitution and increase penalties for those involved in the trade. While the intent is admirable, sometimes, people who've made a simple mistake can get caught up in criminal charges that could forever alter their lives if convicted. If you're facing a charge for prostitution or soliciting a prostitute, the consequences can be serious and frightening. You need an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer representing you every step of the way.

Changes to Texas Prostitution Law

In September 2021, the Texas prostitution law went through a major overhaul. Before 2021, a first offense for soliciting prostitution was a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail. Now, the penalties are much more severe. A first offense for soliciting prostitution is a state jail felony, punishable by up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

The reason for this drastic change is greater awareness of the problem of human trafficking in Texas. The state reports that up to 30% of sex trafficking victims are children, and it estimates are that 35% are victims of international sex trafficking. Two of the biggest risk factors that make a young person vulnerable to sex trafficking include substance abuse and running away from home.

Prostitution in Texas

Under Texas law, 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). While the basic charge can be a Class B Misdemeanor, it rises to a Class A Misdemeanor if you have two or more previous convictions for prostitution. Prostitution rises to a state jail felony if you have three or more previous prostitution convictions. The state may also enhance your prostitution charge by one degree if it happens close to a school, a school function, or an event held by the University Interscholastic League. The possible penalties include the following:

  • Class B Misdemeanor: Up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine
  • Class A Misdemeanor: Up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine
  • State Jail Felony: Up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine

Solicitation of Prostitution in Texas

Texas law also differentiates between prostitution and solicitation of prostitution. In other words, the penalties are steeper for those who solicit prostitution than for those who accept money for sex or sexual acts. Someone commits "solicitation of prostitution" under Texas law If they "knowingly offer[] or agree[] 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).

Penalties for soliciting prostitution in Texas are serious. After the 2021 changes to the law, a first offense is a state jail felony, punishable by up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine. With a prior conviction for soliciting prostitution, the crime becomes a third-degree felony punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The crime becomes a second-degree felony if the prostitute is under 18, the prostitute claims to be under 18, or the john believes the prostitute to be under 18. A second-degree felony is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Other Sex-Oriented Businesses

The 2021 overhaul to the state's prostitution law wasn't the legislature's only attempt to cut down on sex trafficking in Texas. The new law also prohibits adult entertainers between the ages of 18 and 20. This restriction includes people who work in strip clubs, webcam agencies, adult novelty book or sex stores, and other "sexually oriented commercial activity." People under 18 are also banned from the premises of businesses engaged in "sexually oriented commercial activity." Moreover, hiring someone between 18 and 20 to work topless, nude, or in such a business is now a second-degree felony.

Contact Our Harris County Prostitution Charges Attorney

If you're facing a prostitution charge or a charge for soliciting a prostitute, the process and the possible consequences can be overwhelming and scary. With stiff penalties for even first-time offenders, you need an experienced attorney who is well-versed in defending criminal prostitution cases and negotiating with prosecutors. Attorney Doug Murphy is one of only two attorneys in Texas holding Board Certifications in both Criminal Defense Law and DWI Defense. Doug has the practical courtroom experience to guide you through the criminal justice system.

Doug Murphy is also well-regarded by his peers. He served as a past President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association and previously served on the board of directors for the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. Doug has also served on the board of directors for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, receiving many TCDLA President's Awards for his leadership in the law. Doug also shares his knowledge with his peers, providing instruction at continuing legal education seminars throughout Texas and the United States.

In addition to Doug's extensive criminal law experience, U.S. News and World Report has also named Doug as a Best Lawyer in America for Houston DWI defense. Doug received this award through the nomination and votes of his peers in the Houston legal community. Doug and his skilled team have been helping defendants in the Houston area for years, and they can help you too. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. online or call us at 713-229-8333 to schedule your consultation.

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