A Guide to English Law

This guide applies to England and Wales only, not to Scotland or Northern Island. Prostitution itself is technically legal and it is not illegal to pay for sex, but there are several surrounding activities which are illegal. It is illegal to solicit, to advertise or run a brothel - a place where more than one girl works, and to kerb-crawl.

A prostitute has no defined meaning in law but has come to be accepted by the courts as 'a woman who offers her body commonly for sexual intercourse or acts of lewdness, in return for payment'. The only offence the prostitute commits is, being a common prostitute (i.e. a woman who has previous cautions or convictions for prostitution) loitering or soliciting in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution. Street is self explanatory and public place includes places to which the public have access including upon payment. It also includes a woman who sits in the window of her house and can be seen from the street.

For soliciting the woman must approach men (more than one) and be seen to leave with them. Otherwise she could be a respectable woman approaching men asking directions, etc. Soliciting can be more than words alone, it includes gestures, facial expressions, tapping on windows, showing signs etc. For loitering the woman needs do nothing, the fact that she is a prostitute loitering for men to approach is enough.

For kerb crawling - the male act of attracting prostitutes, there are two main offences. Firstly it is an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 1985 for a man to persistently solicit a woman or different women in a street or public place for the purposes of prostitution. Note persistently, must be more than once within the same approximate time and area and the women in question do not have to be prositutes. Secondly, very similar to the first except that the soliciting is done from a motorvehicle, or having just alighted from a vehicle, and again in a street or public place.

Kerb crawlers are dealt with in one of several ways dependent on how high a priority the police give to it. In Sheffield, the police are now very keen and use undercover officers and marked and unmarked police cars to catch people. Part of the area is also under police CCTV surveillance. People caught for the first time will have their details taken, recorded on the Holmes II computer (which is exempt from the Data Protection Act 1984) and have a letter sent home explaining the evils of their actions. Being on the Holmes II computer means any unsolved sexual and physical felons involving prostitues may bring a knock on the door by the police.

If you are caught again, then you can either be cautioned or reported. If you are reported, then your details are taken and a prosecution file submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service who will then decide if there is enough evidence to prosecute you and if it is in the public interest. If it is taken that far then there generally is enough evidence and it is in the public interest and you will be prosecuted. If found guilty, you'll be fined, your name will be published in local paper (The Star) and you'll probably be placed on the Sexual Offender's Register for up to 5 years. This means having to tell the police everytime you move house and have other restrictions placed on you. If you do not comply, you risk being jailed and/or fined. Your DNA will also be recorded and saved in the National DNA Register and compared against unsolved crimes.

There is no offence for a male customer to be present in a brothel (sauna) and so the police have no powers of arrest. Police will ask you your details and to provide a statement about what services you had/were offered. You are not obliged to give your details but you may find things are difficult if you do not. Once you do give your details you could be summonsed to appear at court to give your evidence. If you refuse to appear, then a warrant for your arrest will be issued and you will be brought to court. A common problem for police are men with no ID, providing a plausible but incorrect name whom can't be contacted at a later date. We would not adocate this kind of behaviour of course ... (it is an offense to give incorrect details to the police).

One final word, the age of consent in the UK is 16 for heterosexuals, 18 for homosexuals.


This information is provided only as a guide and should never be taken over professional legal advice. Always seek proper legal advice when arrested or cautioned for any suspected crime.