Where Is Prostitution Legal in the US?

brothel sign
Prostitution is legal in several counties in Nevada.

Prostitution Is Illegal in the United States Except in Nevada

Prostitution is illegal in all states of the United States except for Nevada, where it is legal in brothels in a few counties. 

Where is prostitution legal?

Nevada is the only state to allow legal prostitution, but with restrictions. It is the only state to have a legal brothel in the USA.

From 1980 to 2009, prostitution was legal in Rhode Island, but only because there was no concrete definition of the act, so prostitution laws didn’t apply.

Because no statutes or penal code surrounded it, no legality was involved in outlawing the crime. This situation changed in 2009 when state prostitution laws made prostitution and brothels illegal.

Brothels in New York

In 2020, elected officials in New York created bills to support legalized prostitution in the state, but no widespread support arose.

Nevada Laws on Legal Prostitution

Is prostitution legal in Nevada?

Nevada’s Revised Statutes state that prostitution is legal in licensed brothels. Any form of prostitution or sex work outside these licensed brothels in Nevada is considered illegal, as is any form of solicitation.

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In Nevada, prostitution is legal only in licensed brothels.

Before we talk about the laws and restrictions that govern Nevada’s prostitution law, let’s first define a few terms:

Prostitution

Prostitution in Nevada defines the activity as any sexual act in exchange for a fee. These sexual acts include, but are not limited to:

  • Sexual intercourse with a prostitute
  • Genital contact, including oral sex
  • Any touching of the genitalia with the purpose of sexual arousal
  • Gratifying the sexual desires of an individual. This is usually a woman to a man.
sex worker
Prostitution is defined as engaging in a sexual act in exchange for a fee.

When any of these acts are done for a fee, it is considered prostitution in Nevada.

Street prostitution, which is prostitution in public, such as in parks, private vehicles, hotels, motels, and anywhere that’s not a licensed brothel, is entirely illegal in the state and the rest of the United States.

Sexual Solicitation

Sexual Solicitation is the act of offering sex for money. It is illegal in Nevada except when it occurs within licensed brothels. Advertising for brothels in Nevada is also illegal in public places in the state.

Where is Prostitution Legal in Nevada?

Out of 17 counties in Nevada, 10 counties offer legal prostitution.

State laws ban licensed brothels in counties with populations over 700,000, including Las Vegas, Reno, and Clark County. 

Is prostitution legal in Las Vegas?

Many are surprised that prostitution is not legal in Las Vegas. This is mainly due to their large population. 

Although prostitution and sex workers is very common in Las Vegas, it is not legal.

Las Vegas sign
There are no licensed brothels in Las Vegas.

Any other county with fewer than 700,000 residents is eligible for brothel licensing. Because of this requirement, licensed brothels in Nevada are primarily found in rural areas.

Here are the counties in Nevada where you can find licensed brothels that can offer legal prostitution:

  • Churchill County
  • Elko County
  • Esmeralda County
  • Humbolt County
  • Lander County
  • Lyon County
  • Mineral County
  • Nye County
  • Storey County
  • White Pine County
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10 out of Nevada’s 17 counties allow for legalized prostitution.

These are the 10 counties in Nevada where legal prostitution takes place. However, only 8 of these counties have licensed brothels as of February 2018, with 21 brothels actively operating.

While some of these counties give out brothel licenses, some only provide licenses in incorporated communities.

Churchill County’s last licensed brothel closed in 2014, with no new licenses as of 2022.

Esmeralda County is another county where legal prostitution is permitted, but it doesn’t have an active brothel as of 2022.

Counties with operational brothels in Nevada

Here are the counties with active brothels as of February 2018:

  • Elko County with eight brothels in the incorporated communities of Carlin, Elko, and Wells.
  • Humboldt County with 1 brothel in Winnemucca.
  • Lander County with 1 in Battle Mountain.
  • Lyon County with 4 in Mound House.
  • Mineral County with 1 in Mina.
  • Nye County with 4 in the incorporated communities of Crystal, Pahrump, and Amargosa Valley.
  • Storey Cunty with 1 in Sparks.
  • White Pine County with 2 in Ely.
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In February 2018, 21 licensed brothels were operating in Nevada.

What are the Rules Regarding Legal Prostitution in Nevada?

Location

Though licensed brothels can offer legal prostitution in the counties, there are a few restrictions.

One is the location of the brothel. They must be located in places that are at least 400 yards away from a school or a house of worship. 

The entrance and exit of the building must not directly lead to a principal business street or a thoroughfare.

Because of these rules, most brothels are found farther from town centers and not visible from the street or a highway.

Age of Prostitutes

The legal age for prostitution varies from county to county. In some counties, the age for legal prostitution in brothels must be at least 21 years old, while in other counties, the legal age for brothel workers is 18.

Licensing Fees

For a brothel to be licensed, the brothel owner needs to pay a licensing fee to the county. Depending on the county, license fees vary from $100,000 to $200,000.

Health Requirements for Prostitutes

Since 1986, new Nevada laws have stipulated that sex workers in these brothels must be tested for HIV every month and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) every week. 

STD test kit
Sex workers are required to undergo regular testing for STDs.

The specific STDs being tested for are gonorrhea and chlamydia. Monthly tests are also done for syphilis.

In 1988, condoms became mandatory for sex workers in all forms of sexual intercourse.

If a sex worker tests positive for HIV and STDs, the prostitute and the brothel will be liable if a customer contracts the disease.

A sex worker in a legal brothel can be convicted of a felony if she tests positive for HIV and infects a customer.

Working Days

Prostitutes in licensed brothels can work for a maximum of 9 days for each working period.

What Are the Penalties for Prostitution Outside Licensed Brothels?

Penalties for prostitution taking place outside licensed brothels differ by state. This is because prostitution is not under the jurisdiction of federal laws but they are under state laws, which may vary in their definitions of the act. 

Since prostitution is only legal within licensed brothels, any form of sexual activity for money outside of these premises is considered illegal and subject to penalties and punishment by the law.

Cathouse Brothel sign
Engaging in prostitution outside of licensed brothels is illegal in Nevada.

Only when a non-citizen alien engages in prostitution can federal laws take effect. In such cases, prostitution is considered a form of human trafficking and a sex crime.

Human trafficking or sex trafficking can also happen when a prostitute doing business in a legal brothel is brought outside the state of Nevada.

However, when the crime is committed within the state, the penalties are as follows:

If illegal prostitution is carried out in the state of Nevada and outside licensed brothels, it is considered a misdemeanor crime.

If it’s solicitation and illegal prostitution, it is considered a felony. 

For prostitution and solicitation, penalties include a fine of not more than $1,000 and jail time of not more than six months.

If the person solicits a minor, the fine can reach up to $5000. There can also be jail time of no more than four years for engaging in child prostitution. The offender is ordered to register as a sex offender due to his sexual exploitation.

The ten rural counties of Nevada are the last counties in the United States where legal prostitution occurs. 

It’s important to remember that only under very specific circumstances are sexual acts in exchange for money allowed in licensed brothels.

Street prostitution and solicitation in public places are strictly prohibited.

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