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Escort Services, Prostitution and Unlicensed Massage

Federal Prostitution Offenses, Including Unlicensed Massage and Escort Services

News headlines these days are filled with stories about federal law enforcement agencies becoming involved in prostitution cases that are traditionally handled by local police departments, and this has a lot to do with the widespread use of internet communications. In October 2019, for example, visitors to the independentgirls.com website, which used to be based in South Florida, were surprised to see a notice alerting them that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney had seized the site in conjunction with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

In the aforementioned case, the website administrator, who has ties to New York, was arrested on various counts of facilitating prostitution, an activity commonly known as “pimping,” as well as conducting a sexual relationship with a minor. Four years ago, a woman from New York was arrested in Palm Beach County after investigators found a discussion thread on independentgirls.com alluding to a spa operation that offered prostitution services.

High-profile cases involving “online escort services” such as Eros.com and Backpage.com have made even more prominent news headlines; particularly the latter since it originated on weekly newspapers distributed across the nation before making quite a splash on the internet. When online escort services are taken down by local, state, or federal agencies, a cascading or domino effect tends to follow, whereby many individuals end up getting charged for their roles as providers of sexual services, pimps, money collectors, clients, facilitators, and promoters.

As the so-called “oldest profession in the world,” prostitution is a multidimensional criminal offense in all jurisdictions save for a few counties in the state of Nevada. Many people incorrectly believe that prostitution charges only apply to providers and their clients, but this is not the case. In fact, individuals who think operating a spa that involves mutual touching of a quasi sexual nature may only bring about unlicensed massage charges could be surprised with various charges ranging from pandering to pimping and from collecting prostitution proceeds to money laundering.

Why Prostitution Matters to the Feds

There are quite a few federal statutes that deal with prostitution, the most important being the Mann Act, which can be found under Section 2421 of Title 18. This section of the law deals with interstate transportation related to prostitution, and the most serious offense in this regard would be human trafficking. Prosecutors may construe transportation in many ways. Let’s say the operator of an online escort service or a massage parlor in New Jersey entices an adult New York resident to cross the Hudson River and become a provider; even if the provider willingly accepts the business offer, prosecutors could allege that interstate transportation and trafficking took place, particularly if the operator pays for cab fare.

Needless to say, minors being involved in the prostitution trade bring another set of problems and potentially serious charges. A massage parlor operator could found herself in trouble if a 17-year-old female is arrested for prostitution at her establishment.

It should be noted that the transactional nature of prostitution activities do not always need to be settled with an exchange of cash. A mechanic who proposes a young woman to have sex in lieu of paying for car repairs could be charged for soliciting. If this transactional couple is somehow arrested, both could end up getting charged with prostitution offenses. Let’s not forget about exotic dancers who work at adult cabaret establishments; similar to adult-film actresses, they often find themselves in situations that law enforcement agents could interpret as being prostitution.

Defending Against Prostitution Charges

By virtue of being multidimensional, the outcomes of prostitution charges can range from fines to probation and from community service to prison terms. When federal prosecutors start angling for human trafficking violations, things could get difficult for defendants since the sentencing guidelines call for prison terms starting at five years.

With the right legal defense strategy, charges related to prostitution can be dismissed or reduced depending on the circumstances of each case. Police departments and federal agencies may not always operate ethically when investigating these cases, and overzealous prosecutors are bound to make mistakes. In dragnet cases that involve providers and clients as well as operators of escort services, defendants with lesser charges may be able to enter plea deals to avoid prison sentence. Each case is different, and there is always a chance of prevailing at trial if the facts are strong enough.

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