Prostitution

Citizens Count NH Editor

Prostitution is illegal under New Hampshire law. In recent years, there have been several legislative attempts to move toward decriminalizing sex work.

NH RSA 645:2 states, in part, that it is a misdemeanor to solicit, agree to perform, or engage in sexual contact in return for compensation.

  • It is considered sex trafficking, and rises to the level of a class B felony, if the crime involves someone under 18 or involves compelling another person by force or intimidation.
  • The state statute makes exceptions for victims of human trafficking who are forced into prostitution. Child victims of human trafficking are immune from criminal or deliquency proceedings, while adults can petition for an annulment of their prostitution convictions.  

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, there are resources available to help you.

Federal prostitution laws

Federal law only regulates prostitution as it relates to interstate commerce, immigration, or federal facilities. Some federal laws pertaining to prostitution include:

  • A person applying for a visa to the U.S. will be denied if they are moving in order to engage in prostitution or have engaged in prostitution within the last 10 years.
  • It is illegal to engage in prostitution or run a brothel near military or naval bases.
  • It is illegal to transport a person from one state to another for the purposes of prostitution.   

Prostitution regulations in other states

Prostitution is a criminal offense in every state except Nevada, where it is permitted inside regulated brothels in some counties. In 2009, Rhode Island closed a legal loophole that had allowed indoor prostitution since 1980.

While most states, including New Hampshire, punish both prostitutes and their clients equally, nine states have harsher penalties for the customer. Two states— Delaware and Minnesota—have harsher penalties for the prostitute.  

Recent policy debates

Here are some of the policy debates that have taken place in the Granite State surrounding the regulation or decriminalization of sex work:

  • Several bills related to decriminalizing prostitution have failed in the New Hampshire Legislature in recent years. The most recent, HB 287, would have set up a committee to study the impact of decriminalizing sex work.
  • In 2008, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that production of pornographic films does not constitute prostitution, even though couples are paid to have sex on camera.

PROS & CONS

"For" Position

By Citizens Count NH Editor

"NH should decriminalize prostitution."

  • People should have the right to decide for themselves how they use their bodies. Government should not interfere with that right by codifying social mores.
  • If New Hampshire went so far as to legalize prostitution, it could tax the sex work industry. This would provide a new tax revenue stream which could be used to help fund school programs or other state services.
  • Amnesty International argues that decriminalizing prostitution could make sex work safer for those who engage in it by bringing them out of the shadows.  
  • Prostitution is a “victimless crime” since it is essentially an exchange of a service for compensation. Further, some argue it doesn’t make sense that being paid to have sex on camera (pornography) is legal while being paid to have sex off camera is illegal (prostitution).

"Against" Position

By Citizens Count NH Editor

"NH should not decriminalize prostitution."

  • Decriminalizing prostitution could lead to a break down in societal morality.
  • Many who sell their bodies for sex begin doing so because they are addicted to drugs and need money to fund their habits. Decriminalization could lead more drug addicts to turn to prostitution.
  • Decriminalizing prostitution could make it harder to track down victims of human trafficking. New Hampshire’s blanket ban on sex work helps law enforcement uncover other crimes of this nature.
  • Prostitution is dangerous: one study by a Canadian commission found that female sex workers had a death rate 40 times higher than the general population.  

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Interim Study

Increases the penalty for a person who pays to engage in sexual contact with another person under the age of 18 who is a victim of human trafficking.

Killed in the House

Resolution urging Congress "to amend federal law on the issues of civil and criminal liability for providers and users of computer services carrying advertisements offering sex with sex trafficking victims."

Killed in the House

Decreases the penalty for certain prostitution-related offenses to a violation.

Signed by Governor

Prohibits a defense in prostitution and human trafficking cases that relies on the defendant not knowing the individual's age or ability to consent. The Senate amended the bill to also add a $50 fine to certain criminal offenses involving domestic violence.

Killed in the Senate

Establishes a committee to study the decriminalization of sex work.

Signed by Governor

Makes it a class B felony for a person to pay for sex with a person under the age of 18. The bill also requires registration on the sex offender registry for human trafficking.

Tabled in the House

Removes the penalty for prostitution among consenting adults.

Killed in the House

Modifies the law against prostitution to protect victims of human trafficking.

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Issue Status

An attempt to decriminalize certain prostitution-related offenses was killed in the House this year.

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