Prostitution laws in Philadelphia

Philadelphia was founded in 1682 and the site of the 1st and 2nd Continental Congress. Serving an active role in the Revolutionary War and being an inlet for immigration, Philadelphia has seen its fair share of crime, vice and other excitement.

Prostitution history in Philadelphia

While it’s still common to find prostitutes on the Kensington stroll or on south Broad Street, prostitution was more centralized in the early 1800s. Brothels, gambling halls and saloons were all situated together in vice districts near the urbanized area of the city. These districts exhibited obvious sexuality. With Philadelphia being a military hub during the Revolutionary War, soldiers and officers were regular patrons of prostitutes.

Later Philadelphia gained prominence as an immigration hub, and prostitution became a way of life for many women who came to America alone or whose male family members passed away or were killed.

As time wore on, the Tenderloin became “the” area for prostitution in Philadelphia. In 1913, the Vice Commission reported that nearly all prostitutes in Philadelphia were centralized in this area. Disorderly and bawdy houses were prevalent, along with parlors and call houses that were devoted to prostitution. In 1916, it was said that Philadelphia was a “wide-open town” and known to tolerate vice and other crimes such as prostitution.

The officials were outraged and conducted raids in the summer to eradicate prostitution from the city. However, their efforts didn’t have much effect as prostitution levels stayed much the same until the 1930s. During the 1920s and 1930s, prostitution ran rampant, as did organized crime, police corruption, speakeasies and mob violence.

In the 1950s, prostitution was so bad in Washington Square that officials leveled it and rebuilt it from the ground up, in hopes of displacing prostitutes from the area. It was called “Pervert’s Park.” In the 1970s, the area remained a red-light district referred to as the “Merry Go Round.”

Today, much of Philadelphia’s prostitutes do their business from the streets or work as escorts from Internet-based agencies.

Prostitution law

Philadelphia laws follow the main themes of prostitution laws mandated by the Pennsylvania state legislature. The act of prostitution is a misdemeanor. However, sentencing is determined by the number of convictions an offender may have. Offenders who have been arrested once or twice may receive a sentence of up to 1 year in jail. However, guilty prostitutes may receive up to 2 years in prison for a third arrest. A fourth conviction results in up to 5 years in prison.

Many prostitution-related offenses are categorized as more serious third-degree felonies. These offenses include:

  • Receiving money or a form of support from a prostitute’s proceeds.
  • Acquiring inmates or employees for a house of prostitution.
  • Encouraging a person under the age of 16 years old to become engaged in prostitution.
  • Inducing a person to become or remain a prostitute.
  • Forcing another person to become a prostitute through violence or threats of violence.
  • Running, owning or managing a house of prostitution.
  • Promoting the prostitution of one’s own child, spouse or other dependent.
  • Engaging in acts of prostitution when knowingly infected with the HIV virus.
  • Promoting acts of prostitution by one who is knowingly infected with the HIV virus.

Each of these felony offenses are punishable with up to 7 years incarceration by the department of corrections.

Additionally, like in many states and cities, more and more focus is being placed on the control of human trafficking. As an immigration center, Philadelphia is concerned with the number of immigrants forcefully brought into the United States and compelled to be engaged in prostitution.


The following Nevada counties have their own laws and regulations on prostitution:

Prostitution laws in US cities:

Prostitution laws in Canada