Prostitution, Pimping, and Pandering Laws in South Carolina

Prostitution-related offenses cover more than just paying for sex. South Carolina criminalizes a wide range of activities that aid, abet, and support prostitution, and violators can sometimes land in prison.

By , J.D. · UC Law San Francisco
Updated 2/23/2023

Like most states, South Carolina bans people from buying or selling sex, as well as profiting from the sale of sex. Prostitution-related crimes are normally treated as a misdemeanor in South Carolina, but in some specific circumstances, it can be a felony.

(This article discusses laws in South Carolina that criminalize prostitution and crimes related to it. For information on prostitution laws generally, see the article Prostitution Laws.)

South Carolina Prostitution Laws

Prostitution—exchanging sex for money (or anything else of value)—is illegal in South Carolina. The crime can occur even if no sex occurs. A person is guilty of prostitution even if they only:

  • solicit potential customers to pay for sex
  • indecently expose their body for the purpose of prostitution (or other indecency), or
  • reside in, enter, or remain in a building or other place (or vehicle) for the purpose of prostitution, lewdness, or "assignation" (making or keeping an appointment for prostitution).

(S.C. Code of Laws § 16-15-90 (2022).)

Pimping and Pandering Laws in South Carolina

It's also illegal to pimp (make money from a prostitute's earnings) or pander (facilitate prostitution) in South Carolina. Specifically, it's against the law to:

  • keep or set up a brothel or other establishment for prostitution (a massage parlor, for example)
  • aid or abet prostitution knowingly
  • procure or solicit someone for the purpose of prostitution
  • bring or direct someone to a place where prostitution occurs for the purpose of prostitution, lewdness, or assignation
  • allow someone to remain in a place (or vehicle) for the purpose of lewdness, assignation or prostitution, or
  • rent a building, room, or other structure (or vehicle) if the person has reasonable cause to believe the place is used for prostitution, lewdness, or assignation.

(S.C. Code of Laws § 16-15-90 (2022).)

Hiring Prostitutes is Illegal in S.C.

Patronizing prostitutes (buying their services) is illegal in South Carolina. Again, no actual sex has to occur. Someone can commit the crime of patronizing a prostitute when they:

  • solicit prostitution, or
  • receive a person for purposes of prostitution (for example, letting someone into a hotel room to have sex for money).

(S.C. Code of Laws § 16-15-90 (2022).)

Punishment for Prostitution in S.C.

The penalties for prostitution-related offenses between adults vary depending on whether it's the defendant's first or subsequent offense.

For a first offense, penalties include a fine of up to $200, or up to 30 days in jail. The punishment increases to a fine of up to $1,000, or six months in jail—or both—for a second offense. Any additional offenses after that carry a prison sentence of at least a year, a fine of up to $3,000, or both.

(S.C. Code of Laws § 16-15-110 (2022).)

Increased Penalties for Crimes Involving (or Near) Minors

When a prostitution offense is committed within 100 yards of a childcare facility, the person can be fined up to $10,000, and imprisoned for up to ten years (or both).

Also, it's a felony to permit, encourage, or solicit a minor to engage in prostitution. Someone convicted of that offense can be fined up to $5,000, and sentenced to up to ten years in prison.

(S.C. Code of Laws §§ 63-13-200, 16-15-335, 16-15-342 (2022).)

Sex Offender Registration

Most prostitution offenses don't require sex offender registration. But when someone is convicted in South Carolina of promoting the prostitution of a child under the age of 18, they have to register on the Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect.

(S.C. Code of Laws § 17-25-135 (2022).)

Defenses to Prostitution Charges in South Carolina

In addition to any of the defenses that might apply in any criminal case, a person charged with prostitution might have a defense that's more specific to that crime.

Although it's often tough to establish, a defendant arrested in an undercover sting operation might have an entrapment defense.

Also, depending on the facts, a defendant might be able to argue that they never agreed to, or did not intend to exchange sex for money.

Getting Legal Advice

If you're charged with prostitution or a related crime, you should contact a South Carolina criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system and should be able to tell you if any defenses apply, and whether you should go to trial or try for a plea bargain instead.

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