Prostitution, Pimping, and Pandering Laws in Washington

Understand the various penalties, fees, and additional consequences for prostitution-related offenses in Washington state.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 1/02/2024

Washington's prostitution laws cover a wide range of offenses. While acts of prostitution are misdemeanors, most other prostitution crimes are felonies.

Is Prostitution Legal in Washington?

No. Prostitution—exchanging sex for compensation—is not legal in Washington. State law prohibits a person from selling, buying, profiting from, or advancing prostitution services.

The state no longer criminalizes minors (younger than 18) for committing acts of prostitution. Rather, these sexually exploited minors must be offered victim services.

(Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9A.88.030 and following (2024).)

Washington's Prostitution Laws and Penalties

Like many states, Washington prohibits the following prostitution offenses:

  • engaging or agreeing to engage in prostitution
  • patronizing or soliciting another to engage in prostitution, and
  • advancing or profiting from prostitution (promoting).

It is also a crime in Washington to sell travel services knowing they will be used to patronize prostitutes or to permit prostitution in a building that you rent, own, or reside in. (Wash. Rev. Stat. §§ 9A.88.085, 9A.88.090 (2024).)

Acts involving force, fraud, or coercion, or causing a minor to engage in prostitution fall under the more serious offense of sex trafficking—a class A felony. (Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.40.100 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Prostitution in Washington?

An adult who engages or offers to engage in sexual conduct for compensation commits a misdemeanor. Sexual conduct includes intercourse or contact. A misdemeanor carries a maximum 90-day jail sentence and a $1,000 fine.

Washington law offers several protections for those engaged in prostitution. For instance, child prostitutes are considered victims in Washington. They can no longer be criminally prosecuted. Trafficking victims can raise a defense against prostitution charges by showing they committed prostitution as a result of being trafficked. And any person who seeks emergency assistance for assault, rape, or a violent offense cannot be charged with prostitution. This immunity applies whether the person seeks help for themself or another person.

(Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9A.88.030, 9A.88.040, 9A.88.200 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Patronizing a Prostitute in Washington?

A person who patronizes a prostitute also commits a misdemeanor offense. This customer commits a crime even if they haven't yet engaged in sexual conduct with the prostitute. It's a crime once the person has requested the services, agreed to pay the fee for services, or paid the fee in return for services.

A convicted defendant faces up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, along with a fee. The fee ranges from $1,500 to $5,000 depending on whether the defendant has a prior record of similar offenses.

(Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9A.88.110, 9A.88.120 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Promoting Prostitution in Washington?

A person who profits from or advances prostitution commits the crime of promoting prostitution. Promoting crimes—sometimes referred to as pimping and pandering—are committed by third persons other than a prostitute or customer.

Advancing prostitution refers to acquiring customers, causing someone to engage in prostitution, operating a prostitution enterprise, or engaging in any other conduct designed to enable prostitution. Profiting from prostitution means a third party has taken or will take proceeds from prostitution activities. Both are felony offenses.

Promoting Prostitution in the First Degree

The most serious offense is promoting prostitution in the first degree. A class B felony, this offense occurs when a defendant:

  • uses force or threats to compel a person to engage in prostitution, or
  • targets a victim with a mental or developmental disability to engage in prostitution.

Class B felonies can result in up to a 10-year prison sentence and a $20,000 fine.

Promoting Prostitution in the Second Degree

All other promoting offenses are class C felonies, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Additional Fees for Promoting Offenses

On top of possible prison time and fines, a convicted defendant faces a mandatory fee of $3,000 to $10,000, depending on whether they have a prior record.

(Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9A.888.060, 9A.88.070, 9A.88.080 (2024).)

Vehicle Impoundment and Forfeiture for Prostitution Offenses in Washington

An arresting officer may impound any vehicle used in a suspected violation of patronizing or promoting prostitution. These impoundments are called "prostitution holds." To get back a vehicle under a prostitution hold, the person must pay all impound, storage, and towing fees, plus an additional fine of $500 or $2,500. If the person is later found not guilty, they get a refund of these fees and fines.

For charges of promoting prostitution in the first degree, the stakes are higher. The government can seize any vehicle or personal or real property used or acquired in the commission of the crime. After seizing the property, the government can sell it and keep the proceeds under forfeiture proceedings.

(Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9A.88.140, 9A.88.150 (2024).)

Getting Legal Advice and Counsel

If you are charged with prostitution or a related crime, contact a Washington criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

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