Are Escorts Legal in San Diego?

If you scan the classifieds in your local paper or perform a simple search on a site like Craigslist or BackPage, you’ll undoubtedly find advertisements for escorts in your area. Contrary to popular belief, escorts are legal in San Diego. However, there is a very fine line between an escort and a prostitute.

Escorts are paid simply for their companionship. If you have sex with your paid escort, you could be crossing that line and wandering into criminal territory. In San Diego, it’s illegal to pay someone to have sex with you, or to accept payment in exchange for sexual favors.

What’s the Difference Between an Escort and a Prostitute?

Both escorts and prostitutes perform a service in exchange for compensation. Escorts must have a valid escort license or work for an individual holding such a license, and are hired for companionship or entertainment. Escorts who work as nude entertainers must obtain an additional escort license to engage in that line of work. Escort behavior can involve nudity and sexually-charged emotions, which can lead to behavior that gets very close to the line of prostitution. However, it is a violation of San Diego law for an escort to solicit or engage in lewd or sexual activity in exchange for compensation.

Prostitutes, on the other hand, perform sexual favors or engage in sexual behavior in exchange for compensation of some kind. Compensation does not necessarily have to be money; it can be anything that is of value to the individual. Drugs, handbags, electronics, or alcohol could potentially be classified as “compensation” for the purposes of prostitution.

In the simplest possible terms, escorts are paid for companionship and prostitutes are paid for sex. There is a very grey area between the two. It can be easy for escort behavior to bleed over into that which is considered prostitution.

Escorting Without a License

In order to be an escort, a person must apply for a special (and highly-regulated) license. When San Diego grants the license, it will monitor an escort’s behavior to ensure that the individual is not engaging in behavior that is lewd, sexual in nature, or offensive. Escorts (or businesses holding an escort license) must maintain a daily register with information including:

  • The names of all employees working in the escort establishment
  • Each employee’s work hours, and
  • The “true identity” of all customers as provided on legal identification (e.g., driver’s license, passport).

Individuals in violation of San Diego escort laws can be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to six months in jail and/or $1,000 in fines.

Escorts are not only regulated by local San Diego law, but also California state law. Understanding state law obligations is a prerequisite of being an escort in San Diego. In California, escorts are prohibited from engaging in “obscene live conduct” and “acts of prostitution.”

Obscene Live Conduct: California Penal Code 311.6 PC explains that escorts may not knowingly engage in or participate in obscene live conduct. This could include simulating sexual acts, masturbating in front of a client, or exposing one’s genitals. A violation of 311.6 PC is a misdemeanor.

Solicit or Participate in Acts of Prostitution: It is a violation of California Penal Code 657(b) PC to request, demand, or provide sexual acts in exchange for compensation. Soliciting is the act of asking for sex in exchange for compensation, while prostitution is the act of providing sex in exchange for compensation.  A violation of 657(b) PC is generally a misdemeanor, unless you have prior convictions and/or any aggravating factors are present.

Fighting Criminal Charges in San Diego

Police and law enforcement in San Diego are cracking down on perceived violations of state solicitation and prostitution laws. It is important to remember that escort services are legal in San Diego. As long as your conduct does not involve (engage in or asking for) sex-for-pay, you cannot be guilty of solicitation or prostitution.

If you have been accused of violating state escort laws, or engaging in illegal prostitution behaviors, there are many defenses that can be argued in your defense. These may include:

  • Entrapment (you were tricked into committing a crime by police)
  • No sexual activity occurred
  • Sexual activity occurred, but only after the escort-client arrangement expired
  • False accusation
  • Mistaken identity, or
  • Evidence obtained from an illegal search or seizure.

The best defense for you will depend on the specific circumstances of your case. Hiring an experienced San Diego attorney to handle your criminal case is the best thing you can do after an arrest. At the Law Offices of Vikas Bajaj, APC, we will thoroughly review your alleged sex crime, determine the best strategy for your defense, and explain your legal options. Call us today to schedule an initial consultation and learn more.


Sex Crimes