Prostitution, Pimping, and Pandering Laws in Massachusetts

By , Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

Massachusetts law punishes prostitution as a misdemeanor crime, but punishes the related offenses of solicitation, pimping, and pandering with greater penalties than for prostitution itself. The crimes of pimping and pandering are increased to felonies, with still greater penalties, where the crimes involve minors.

A person convicted of certain prostitution-related crimes may have to register as a sex offender under Massachusetts law.

For more information on the crimes of prostitution, solicitation, pimping, and pandering in general, see Prostitution.

What Is Prostitution in Massachusetts?

Even in Massachusetts, with its legendary reputation for witch-burning and marking fallen women with a scarlet letter, the law punishes only acts, not status. So, a person known to have previously engaged in prostitution cannot be charged as a "night walker" (a term that used to be in the Massachusetts prostitution law) based on that reputation alone. An offer of sex for sale must occur for anyone to be prosecuted, although sexual conduct need not occur.

Under Massachusetts law, any person who:

  • engages
  • agrees to engage, or
  • offers to engage

in sexual conduct with another person in return for a fee may be prosecuted for the misdemeanor of prostitution, whether sexual conduct occurs or not. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, §53A(a).)

A person seeking the services of a prostitute (that is, a "john") also violates Massachusetts law, which makes it a crime for any person to:

  • pay
  • agree to pay, or
  • offer to pay

another person to engage in sexual conduct, whether sexual conduct occurs or not. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, §53A(b).) This violation carries a greater penalty than that prescribed for engaging in prostitution. However, a 1990 study in Massachusetts showed that not one person charged with offering to pay a prostitute was arraigned on that charge since the law that made it a crime was enacted in 1983. Penalties are discussed further below.

Massachusetts law does not define sexual conduct. Massachusetts courts have defined "sexual contact," however, as that term relates to a charge of prostitution.

What Is Pimping and Pandering Massachusetts?

The terms "pimping" and "pandering" are not used in the Massachusetts criminal code, but Massachusetts does outlaw conduct that is commonly thought of as pimping and pandering. Anyone who knowingly procures, entices, or sends another person to engage in prostitution with someone else violates Massachusetts law. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § § 8, 12.) Pimping/pandering may be proven by circumstantial evidence, although one Massachusetts defendant recently made the prosecutor's job easier by shouting from a holding cell (presumably after the contents of his wallet were confiscated), "That's my money! My girl worked hard for it!" (Commonwealth v. Matos, 78 Mass.App.Ct. 578 (2011)).

A person who lives off or shares the earnings of a prostitute, knowing that the other person is a prostitute (such as the "madam" of a brothel), is also guilty of a crime in Massachusetts. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, §7.) A brothel "madam" would also be guilty of "keeping a house of ill fame," which is a separate crime in Massachusetts. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, §24.)

As with the crime of paying or offering to pay a prostitute, the crimes of procuring a person to engage in prostitution and sharing the earnings of a prostitute carry greater penalties than prostitution itself, as discussed further below.


Certain defenses are available to a person charged with prostitution and related crimes under Massachusetts law. Here are a few of them.

No "Knowing" Conduct

Where a person charged in Massachusetts had no intent to engage in sex for money or knowledge that sex for money was being offered, he can argue this lack of "knowing" conduct as a defense. Knowing conduct can be shown by words indicating sex for money or by actions, such as where the person charged touches the other person in a suggestive manner (for example, placing a hand on the inner thigh).

In order to convict a person of pimping, a Massachusetts prosecutor must prove that the person knew that the other person earning the money had earned it from prostitution. So, where the prosecutor does not prove such knowledge, the person charged will be acquitted. For example, the French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in response to charges of pimping, has claimed that he did not know that the women at a sex party he attended were part of a prostitution ring. If Mr. Strauss-Kahn were charged with pimping in Massachusetts and could prove his lack of knowledge defense, he would likely be acquitted of the charge.

No Sexual Conduct

Sometimes a massage is not just a massage. In at least one case in Massachusetts, a female masseuse who had charged $30 for a massage began giving an undercover cop a non-sexual back rub. A few minutes into the session, the masseuse took off her top and began massaging the officer's genitals. After 45 seconds of this activity, the cop stood up and placed the masseuse under arrest for prostitution. The trial and appeals courts rejected the masseuse's argument that "massaging" the officer's genitalia was not sexual conduct.

But, a legitimate therapeutic massage is not sexual conduct.

No Sexual Conduct "For a Fee"

Diamonds may be a girl's (or boy's) best friend, but they are not necessarily a "fee." A generous (and perhaps grateful) widow who gives her pool boy some bling after he services more than the filtration system has not paid for sex, nor has the young man engaged in prostitution. Some agreed exchange of sex for a fee is required for a crime to be committed in Massachusetts.

No Defense That No Sexual Conduct Occurred

If an offer of sex for money or money for sex is made, a crime has been committed in Massachusetts. It's no defense that the sex never happened.

How Are Prostitution-Related Crimes Punished in Massachusetts?

The penalties for prostitution and related crimes differ based on the particular crime. As noted above, if the victim is a minor, the penalties are increased substantially.


Prostitution is a misdemeanor crime in Massachusetts. A person convicted of the misdemeanor of prostitution may be sentenced to not more than one year in prison, a fine of not more than $500, or both.

Paying or Offering to Pay Prostitute

Massachusetts law prescribes a greater penalty for convicted "johns" than for convicted prostitutes. A person convicted of paying or offering to pay another for sexual conduct may be sentenced to not more than two-and-one-half years in prison, a fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $5,000, or both prison and a fine.

Receiving Earnings of a Prostitute

A person convicted of receiving the earnings of a person engaged in prostitution in Massachusetts also faces a greater penalty than one convicted of prostitution. Anyone violating the pimping and pandering laws in Massachusetts may be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Procuring a Prostitute

A person who procures (that is, locates or arranges) a prostitute for another may be sentenced to not less than three months and not more than two years in prison, a fine of not less than $100 and not more than $500, or both prison and a fine.

Revocation of Teaching License

The teaching license of a teacher in Massachusetts may be revoked if the teacher has been convicted of, or plead guilty to, a crime involving "moral turpitude." (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 7.00, § 7.14.) Prostitution, patronizing a prostitute, and pimping may all be considered crimes of moral turpitude.

Sex Offender Registration

A person convicted of prostitution or a prostitution-related offense where the prostitute or victim is a minor will also be designated a "sex offender" under Massachusetts law. In addition to any prison sentence and/or fine, this designation requires that the offender's name(s), addresses, fingerprints, and other identifying information be placed on a public database and disseminated to police departments and the FBI. The offender must register annually for 20 years after release from prison or conviction of the offense, whichever is later.

An Important Note on Local Legal Representation

If you have been charged with prostitution, prostitution-related crime, or any other sexual crime, see a lawyer experienced in criminal defense law in the state in which you were charged. If you are charged with any crime that carries the possible requirement that you register as a sex offender, it is imperative that you seek legal advice. Registering as a sex offender severely limits where you can work, live, and spend time, and it follows you even after the end of the twenty years specified in the statute because it remains on your record. Do not delay in finding a lawyer.

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