Prostitution, Pimping, and Pandering

Learn how the laws define pimping and pandering and their possible punishments.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 2/21/2023

Though prostitution is a crime under federal law and in all states other than Nevada, certain conduct related to it is treated far more severely than the act itself. Pimping and pandering laws are designed to curb prostitution—and to protect victims who might take part in it—by punishing those who exploit, facilitate, or knowingly benefit from the sex trade.

Pimping and Pandering Laws

Pimping and pandering laws are aimed at third parties or intermediaries who promote or exploit prostitution, not at prostitutes themselves or their customers (patrons).

The terms "pimping" and "pandering" often overlap, and in certain states, they are one and the same. Statutes may alternatively use terms such as "promoting" or "procuring" prostitution. Regardless of the technical terms used by a state, these laws are all directed at the same category of behavior—that is, commercial exploitation of the sex trade.

What Is Pimping?

Pimping principally consists of receiving, either directly or indirectly, a prostitute's earnings. It also encompasses the act of asking for or receiving money in exchange for soliciting a prostitute.

What Is Pandering?

Pandering, on the other hand, involves the practice of procuring a person to be used for, or to travel for, prostitution. It also includes inducing, encouraging, or forcing someone to engage in or continue to engage in prostitution.

Pimping Crimes: Who Is a Pimp?

Under many states' laws, a pimp is a person who knowingly profits from the earnings of a prostitute. Some states require that the pimp lives off of the earnings of a prostitute or prostitutes. In other states, pimping includes receiving compensation for arranging a meeting between a prostitute and a customer or providing transportation or a location (like a hotel room) for the purpose of prostitution.

Pimping and pandering often occur together. For example, when a defendant attempts to convince someone to work for him as a prostitute (pandering) and proposes to share in their profits (pimping).

Pandering Crimes

Pandering describes a person who recruits persons into being sex workers. This recruitment may occur by the defendant inducing, making threats, or devising a scheme to get the person to engage in prostitution.

To be convicted of pandering, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant specifically intended to persuade another person into becoming a prostitute—even if unsuccessful in that endeavor. For example, a defendant who attempts to persuade an undercover police officer to engage in prostitution can still be convicted of pandering.

A pandering conviction doesn't require that any money exchange hands, and a person can be convicted of pandering even if their target sought out a prostitution arrangement. For example, contacting someone who has posted an advertisement for prostitution and attempting to convince them to engage in sex for money still constitutes a pandering violation.

Other Third Parties Involved in Exploiting or Promoting Prostitution

States vary widely in how they define crimes relating to promoting prostitution. Other illegal acts by prostitution intermediaries include:

  • managing or owning a prostitution business
  • conducting or directing someone to a place for the purpose of prostitution
  • permitting another person to use a place under his or her control for prostitution, and
  • keeping or leasing a house for purposes of prostitution.

Prostitutes and Customers (Patrons)

A prostitute is a person who offers, agrees to, or performs a sexual act in exchange for compensation. The person who obtains a prostitute for their own sexual gratification is typically referred to as a patron. Neither are considered to have engaged in pimping or pandering but instead have committed distinct but lesser crimes. Even if a prostitute passes on their earnings to a third party, they are not an accomplice to pimping.

What Are the Penalties for Pimping, Pandering, and Prostitution?

States usually classify pimping and pandering as misdemeanors or felonies. When pimps or panderers target minors younger than 18, whether the offense occurs at the federal or state level, the penalties are usually felonies and far harsher than when adults are involved. Prostitution offenses often carry misdemeanor penalties.

Pimping and Pandering Punishments

New York, for example, makes pimping and pandering misdemeanor offenses when the victim is an adult age 19 or older. However, the penalty bumps up to a class B, C, or D felony when a minor is involved. The harshest penalty applies when the victim is younger than 13 or 15 if the defendant is 21 or older. These crimes fall under New York's Penal Laws prohibiting the promotion of prostitution in the first- through fourth degrees. (N.Y. Penal Laws §§ 230.20 to .32 (2022).)

Federal Penalties for Sex Trafficking

Federal law prohibits transporting a person across state lines or into the country while intending for that person to partake in the sex trade. For example, it is a federal offense to persuade someone from another country to move to the United States in order to become a prostitute. The maximum penalty for trafficking sex workers is 10 years in federal prison. (18 U.S.C. § 2421 (2022).)

Prostitution and Patronizing Punishments

In comparison, those who participate directly in prostitution, either by offering or receiving sex for money, will generally face misdemeanor sentences. Several states no longer criminalize prostitution offenses committed by minors. Rather, the minor is considered a victim and might fall under child protection laws. The patrons who engage minors in prostitution are another story. They might face felony penalties and prison time. That is the case in New York. (N.Y. Penal Law §§ 230.04 to .06 (2022).) In California, a patron who solicits a minor can get hit with an additional criminal fine of up to $25,000. (Cal. Penal Law § 261.9 (2022).)

Prostitution Laws by State

Find more information on the following states' prostitution laws by clicking the links below.

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