Sexual Exploitation and Patronizing a Prostitute

In recent years, police in Seattle and King County have been cracking down heavily on prostitution, with a new strategy of focusing on clients more than the prostitutes themselves. The world of prostitution itself has changed dramatically, with more prostitutes now being found on websites, leading the police to rely often on internet sting operations.

In this ever harsher and more complicated legal climate, The Marshall Defense Firm is prepared to help you with the legal problems that come with being arrested for prostitution or patronizing a prostitute. We are committed to ensuring you feel respected and supported throughout the difficult process of responding to a criminal charge. We understand the stress this event places on your personal, professional, and emotional lives. Our job will be to lessen that stress by fighting for you on every legal front. In court, and in the offices of police and prosecutor, we will be your voice, ensuring you are treated fairly.

Prostitution-Related Crimes

Both prostitution and patronizing a prostitute can be charged in either state court or municipal court (the court of a city). The crime of prostitution is defined as agreeing to engage in sexual conduct with another person in return for a fee or offering to do so.

A person is guilty of patronizing a prostitute if they pay, or agree to pay, or even just solicit or request another person to engage in sexual conduct for a fee.

In Seattle, the new name for the crime of patronizing a prostitute is “sexual exploitation.” Because Seattle is the only jurisdiction in Washington (or anywhere) that uses that term for the crime of patronizing a prostitute, a Seattle conviction can be confusing when it shows up on a person’s criminal history. Potential employers may think sexual exploitation is a felony; in fact, it is still a simple misdemeanor. If federal authorities believe that sexual exploitation is a felony, immigrants may find themselves in danger of deportation.


Being charged with prostitution or patronizing a prostitute (or sexual exploitation) can have serious consequences in today’s world. An arrest for patronizing a prostitute used to be a minor event in the life of a customer—usually one could keep the arrest quiet. Often one could negotiate to avoid a conviction. But now many prosecutors insist on convictions of customers. Serious life-long consequences can now result from a prostitution arrest.

Currently, either being a prostitute or patronizing a prostitute is a misdemeanor. On the other hand, patronizing a juvenile prostitute can be a felony.

In Seattle, sexual exploitation is a simple misdemeanor, which means the maximum punishment is up to 90 days in jail and $1,000 fine.

Outside Seattle, conviction for patronizing a prostitute is also a misdemeanor.

Because prostitution and patronizing a prostitute are not defined as sex offenses under Washington law, there is no sex offender registration requirement for persons convicted of either (so long as the person that was hired or solicited was over the age of 18 and therefore an adult). On the other hand, there are other crimes, such as promoting prostitution, a Class C felony, that can require sex offender registration. In King County, police have recently charged men who posted reviews and recommendations on sex worker websites with “promoting prostitution.”

To crack down on prostitution-related offenses the Washington Legislature has adopted stiff new fines for patronizing a prostitute:

  • $1,500 if the defendant has no prior convictions, deferred sentences, deferred prosecutions, or diversion agreements for patronizing a prostitute
  • $2,500 if the defendant has one such prior offense
  • $5,000 if the defendant has two such prior offenses

Some cities have added their own mandatory fines. For example, in Seattle, the municipal court adds the Sex Industry Victim Funds fine of $1,000 for convictions, deferred sentences, deferred prosecutions, and even diversion agreements.

The court may reduce one of these fines by as much as two-thirds if the defendant does not have the ability to pay the full fine.

And there are penalties related to a car or truck. If someone is arrested for patronizing a prostitute, the arresting officer may impound the vehicle if it was used in the commission of the crime, and the owner was previously convicted of patronizing a prostitute, or the offense was committed within an area with a disproportionately high number of arrests for these offenses. Getting the vehicle back by paying all impoundment, towing, and storage fees as well as a $500 fine.

How The Marshall Defense Firm Can Defend You

At The Marshall Defense Firm, we are committed to providing you the best possible defense. We understand the stress this event places on your personal, professional and emotional lives.

We defend both those accused of patronizing prostitutes and those accused of prostitution. We will work to avoid the filing of charges, and, if don’t succeed in that, to aggressively defend against the charges. Throughout the process, we will advise you what can be done to minimize the impact of the charges on your life.

If you are charged, our defense will begin by scrutinizing the circumstances of your arrest. We’ll look for evidence the police violated your constitutional rights against unreasonable searches or used coercion in interrogating you.

If you are involved in prostitution only because others have victimized you, this can be a defense.

In negotiating with the prosecutor, we will show why a punitive approach is not appropriate and will look for a compromise that you find better than the inherent risks of trial.

Finally, if it does come to a trial, you will be in good hands at the Marshall Defense Firm. We have won many trials and are often invited to teach trial skills to other lawyers. Our knowledge of trial tactics has been honed by experience, and we will use all our knowledge to fight for you.

What it’s Like to Have The Marshall Defense Firm in Your Corner

Respect and compassion are the foundation of our work. We take time to get to know you and your case. It’s where our fierce advocacy for you begins.

Then there’s our experience. For decades we have defended clients against charges of sexual misconduct, including prostitution. From that and our on-going study of the law, medicine, and psychology involved in such cases, we have exceptional skill.

And we pool that skill. We work as a team. Every attorney in the firm will be contributing their talents to your defense.

Our final ingredient is relentless investigation and preparation. When we step into court to defend you, we are ready to do it well.

If you or a loved one needs services like ours, contact us at 206.202.1633 or for an appointment.

Confer with us in good health! You may choose to confer with us by Zoom or telephone to avoid Covid risk. Please phone us at 206.826.1400 to schedule your conference.