Prostitution and Minnesota Law

How can we best understand prostitution law?

Prostitution law involves two important aspects of human existence: sexuality and money.  What is prostitution?  Sex for money.

Sex and money are both emotional topics.  So is it any surprise that prostitution is controversial?  After all, it’s been around longer than money.

Throughout history and across cultures, we have diverse views.

Harm reduction or send a message?

Do we believe that social harms are caused by our sexuality, our money, our prostitution?  Put that way – yes, we do.  We have a social consensus.  These can cause social harms.

Then, what should we do about it?

Can the laws play a role in reducing these harms?  And, what does prostitution law in Minnesota look like?  What about the United States?  Other nations?


Social Harms of Prostitution Reduced in the Netherlands
Social Harms of Prostitution Reduced in the Netherlands

Criminal laws can divided into malum in se and malum prohibitum.

Malum In Se is literally “Evil in itself.”  A  malum in se crime is naturally evil, like murder and theft.  Common law crimes were generally mala in se.

But a malum prohibitum offense is not naturally an evil.  By decree, something becomes a crime solely as a consequence of its being forbidden; like some gambling, drugs. 

But it’s legal in other states and countries.  So prostitution law in other jurisdictions shows us that it is a malum prohibitum offense.

Does a law forbidding an act make it go away? 

Drug prohibition laws show us the answer.  And making alcohol, other drugs, and gambling a crime, increases social harms.

So we can distinguish between consequences of:

  • the act of prostitution, vs.
  • prostitution law

Many confuse the two.  But they are separate and distinct.

Cause and effect

Which causes the social harms: the act, or the criminal laws?  Let’s list associated social harms:

Coercion.  Sex workers are rarely coerced where legal and regulated. But where unregulated and criminalized, coercion is common.  Human trafficking thrives on criminalization.  Criminal laws encourage the use of drugs, threats, and violence to coerce sex workers.

Exploitation of Children.   Where legal and regulated, children and underage people rarely work in the sex industry.  But in Minnesota, as in other places where it is crime, anything goes.  Prostitutes often begin under the age of 18 in Minnesota. More policing, more laws, more punishment create more victims.

Nuisance.  Is this a “neighborhood livability crime?”  Not much any more.  But to the extent it still is, legal prostitution can be zoned into a red light district. So, Minneapolis has zoned pornography into one part of town.  The move from the streets to the web has reduced this issue.


Prostitution law aggravates social harms

All of those are direct products of criminalization. 

The consequences below are related to the act, but aggravated by criminal prostitution law.

Public Health.  Sexual activity can spread diseases, such as AIDS.  But where legal, regulation enforces frequent medical examinations. And bringing it above-ground makes helps sex workers avoid coercion and exploitation.  Prostitution laws that make it an unregulated crime, increase associated drug addiction.

Morality.  Many view the sex act as immoral and unethical, though compared to others, a minor sin.  Of course, many view any sexual activity as a sin.  What about compassionate use for the physically handicapped, medical, etc.?  

Should “the law of man” respect a person’s free will to choose virtue? And we leave the domain of saving souls to God’s law?  By binding someone’s hands, do you not prevent them from exercising their free will to be virtuous? 

Which is more immoral, the act of prostitution; or criminal prostitution law aggravating these social harms?  Consider our related article: Jesus as Criminal Defense Lawyer: The Woman Accused of Adultery.

Minnesota Laws on Prostitution

Prostitution is unregulated in Minnesota because it is a crime.

It is part of the underground economy.  Minnesota’s criminal prostitution law statutes address both the common and the unusual cases.

Most arrests are customers

By far the most common prosecutions in Minnesota are those against would-be customers.  The Minneapolis police MyFastPass investigation is an example.

But these are generally the result of police sting operations, employing deception.

Police sting deception can go too far, however, creating defenses for the accused.  Though true entrapment defenses are less common, police commonly employ sentencing entrapment by manipulating the situation to up-charge.  A prostitution law attorney can raise these defenses where facts support them.

Traditionally stings began on the streets, often motor vehicles, or in storefronts.

But in recent years, they begin online over the internet, for example on Craigslist, Backpage or Rubmaps.  Prosecutors generally charge these online solicitation sting cases as misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor crimes.

Felony cases

Felony prostitution law crimes in Minnesota are less common.  But when prosecutors charge a felony, they allege people under 18 years old, pimps, promoters, and coercion.

Thomas C. Gallagher, Minnesota Prostitution Law Attorney
Thomas C. Gallagher, Minnesota Prostitution Lawyer

Prostitution thrives in an unregulated, underground economy.  And this makes investigating cases difficult for prostitution law enforcement (police).

Ironically, legalizing prostitution would help law enforcement directly target the higher priority problems. These include under 18 years old, pimps and promoters, and coercion.

The author, Thomas C Gallagher is a prostitution attorney in Minneapolis.

He regularly defends people accused of prostitution and solicitation in Minnesota.

7 thoughts on “Prostitution and Minnesota Law”

  1. Tom, great article, analysis. Informative, relevant. Just had a prostitution case in Burnsville. Lost an entrapment motion and argument. Thought there was a good issue….gotta keep trying. Prosecutor said because close proximity to airport it has been a big problem……….

  2. I tend to think prostitution should be legal in the perfect world. Nevertheless, even where legal, many of the “ills” persist, particularly coercion. A few years back, I read a book about the Mustang Ranch in NV. I was struck by the fact that a good portion of the women working there were either coerced (by someone not working at the Ranch, e.g. husband, boyfriend, and even pimps – again, not working at or affiliated with the ranch, and still very much in control). I suspect that even if legalized, those in control would not give it up. Anyway, good thoughts in this post.

    1. Thanks for the comment. My view is that, while coercion may always exist, it is markedly reduced where disfavored practices are brought out of the shadows and into the light. There, those coerced can seek help more effectively. And, those who would coerce are deterred as a result of a real threat of consequences. This is the veiw of “harm reduction” – that it is better to pragmatically reduce social harms; than to preserve criminalization as a “statement” of moral condemnation and assume an implicit or stated attitude of indifference to the disadvantaged who suffer as a result.

  3. I agree with Patrick there is always going to be a certain amount of coercion and that is what should always be a concern. There was a civil claim against sex traffickers that allowed for direct claims by those that were trafficked that could have helped a lot. Hopefully, a better governor will look at remedies that make sense.

  4. Jackie Carpenter

    I, too, tend to think that prostitution should be legalized. At the end of the day, you have grown people consenting to do an act. Now if you remove consent for any reason, I would not deem that prostitution, but rather rape.

  5. Tom – excellent overview. Prohibition of gambling, small loans, drugs, prostitution and other things puts those activities into the hands of professional criminals and provides a source of economic power to them. I would rather see them broke and relegated to committing Malum in Se crimes. The religious and moral arguments are the only basis that I can think of to support the statute – except maybe “public policy” to provide stability to traditional marriage and monogamous relationships and their children. Thus a Control over male sexuality and male economic power – if you want sex Mr. Male you must conform to an approved type of relationship- usually involving committment – and a reduction or cessation of sex after time. Those relationships have historically involved a re-distribution of wealth from male to female beyond that needed for child rearing. Prostitution short circuits this society wide scheme. I would rather see sexual and economic freedom and parity for both genders.

  6. As a former prostitute/escort I am of course of the opinion that it should be legal. Quite a few of my customers were men that just didn’t have the time or the desire to go out to bars and pick up women, and some just weren’t able to get a girl who was physically attractive enough for them. One of my regular clients had early onset Parkinson’s, and although he was a nice guy, he could barely speak because of his severe stuttering. How is someone like that supposed to go pick up women? So is he just supposed to go without when there is someone like me who would be perfectly happy to provide that service to him? It’s also quite dangerous because it is unregulated. If you end up with someone violent, you are completely at their mercy. I would have loved to be in a safe situation, like a brothel. Just my opinion.

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