Differences Between Prostitution and Human Trafficking

You may here people use the terms prostitution and human trafficking interchangeably, or in a way that does not make it explicit how they differ. While these two concepts are related, they constitute very different acts in our criminal justice system, with substantially different consequences.

Definitions for prostitution and human trafficking differ somewhat between state laws and federal law, but the general idea is as follows:

  • Prostitution: A person offering their own body for sexual intercourse for hire.
  • Human Trafficking: A person exerts third-party control over another person for labor or sexual exploitation through means of force, abduction, fraud or coercion.

Essentially, a person can be guilty of prostitution if they themselves are selling sexual services using their own body for money. A person who controls prostitutes, often referred to as a “pimp”, would be a human trafficker. This may seem confusing at first because often when we hear of human trafficking it is in large-scale operations involving many people and many victims. However, by law the number and size of the trafficking operation are not really what matters. We have a dedicated article discussing human trafficking and its requirements and penalties in North Carolina, so in this article we discuss what constitutes prostitution and how it is punished.

billboard showing a brothel for prostitution

Engaging in Prostution as Adults

In North Carolina, as an adult you do not have the right as an adult to offer sexual services using your own body for hire. Additionally, other people involved in an adult’s prostitution, though not in control like a trafficker, can still be guilty of a prostitution crime. In North Carolina, the following are unlawful adult prostitution-related crimes:

  • Engaging in Prostitution: offering one’s own body for sexual services for hire.
  • Loitering for Prostitution: wandering in a public place to repeatedly stop passers-by or attempt to stop them to solicit prostitution.
  • Maintaining a Place for Prostitution: Keeping or operating a place to use for prostitution.
  • Occupying a Place for Prostitution: Occupying, entering and remaining in a place used for prostitution.
  • Receiving a Prostitute’s Service: Being a client of a prostitute.
  • Soliciting Prostitution: Offering sexual services.
  • Transporting a Prostitute: transporting a person to a place used for prostitution.

A conviction of any of these prostitution crime is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor. The court may also order the defendant be examined for sexually transmitted diseases, and if any are found, may order that they receive treatment while on probation. Female prostitutes may only be placed on probation with a female officer.

Prostitution Involving Minors

When prostitution involves minors, the penalties are significantly more serious, more akin to those in human trafficking offenses. This is because minors are generally not assumed to consent to prostitute themselves, so any person enabled or facilitating their prostitution may be guilty of a human-trafficking type of crime. There are 3 main ways this crime is divided:

  • Soliciting a Minor to Participate in Prostitution: A person who is not a minor and requests or solicits a minor to engage in prostitution, or pays and agrees to pay a minor to prostitute.
  • Supervising, Supporting or Protecting a Minor’s Prostitution: A person knowingly supervises, supports, advises or protects the prostitution of a minor, or by a minor.
  • Facilitating a Minor’s Prostitution: A person knowingly entices, forces, encourages or otherwise facilitates a minor to participate in prostitution.

Facilitating and supervising or supporting are both punished as a class C felony upon conviction. Soliciting a minor into prostitution is a class F felony. This is similar to North Carolina’s human trafficking charges, which also carries a class C felony conviction for minors.

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