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MissAnthrope's avatar

[Possibly NSFW] Law buffs: What does the law say about professional dominatrices in California (Oakland, specifically)?

Asked by MissAnthrope (21406 points ) November 23rd, 2011

I have a debate going with someone regarding the legality of professional BDSM services in the SF Bay Area. They are saying it’s illegal and that from a police standpoint, ProDommes are no better than prostitutes. From all my research, because I was curious, it seems like it’s either legal or, in any case, not considered prostitution if the Dominant doesn’t engage in “sexual activity”. “Sexual activity” being generally defined as penis-vagina contact. Use of toys is not considered sex, legally, so far as I understand.

Now, my debate partner says that a lawyer has stated these professional domination activities are illegal, from start to finish, regardless of a session’s content. Of course, where the law is involved, I’m apt to trust a lawyer more than myself. However, I went back and started re-researching the law on this matter and I keep coming up with the same answer: Professional Dom/mes won’t be arrested around here unless there is “sex” involved.

Who’s correct? Is the truth somewhere in between (like, it’s illegal, but cops don’t care if no one’s getting laid)? Does anyone know?

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2 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

I haven’t done any research, and I have no personal experience in the matter, but my gut feeling is that it’s not illegal per se, depending on the jurisdiction. By that I mean that I expect this activity / profession would be allowed in Oakland, San Francisco, New York, Hartford and other cities where the borders of legality have been pretty broadly drawn – and there’s a lot more “real crime” to be concerned about anyway (including streetwalkers who put themselves and their clients in direct harm). In Mayberry, this service would probably be so tightly “watched” and investigated, that even if it weren’t de jure illegal it would be hard to carry on the business (even if enough Mayberryians could be found to make a commercial go of it).

But I see so many ads in publications like the Hartford Advocate and other ‘alternative weeklies’ that have very full “Adult Classified” sections that I think if a professional dominatrix (or massage parlor operator, to name an even more popular draw in those ads) were in direct violation of black letter law that these services couldn’t operate and advertise so freely. Surely “everyone knows” that sexual activity occurs in one way or another at these venues, up to and including intercourse. But if the sex is “incidental” and not performed (or solicited) for specific cash or other valuable consideration, then no crime has been committed.

I believe that your debate partner was lying, misquoting, or misinterpreting a legal opinion. No responsible attorney could say with a straight face that “these professional domination activities are illegal, from start to finish, regardless of a session’s content”. Lawyers almost never make such broad-stroke statements (until they become politicians and court votes).

MissAnthrope's avatar

I had completely forgotten that I had asked this question. Upon further research and much digging, it does appear that my debate partner was correct, at least where the letter of the law is concerned. If law enforcement wanted to bust ProDommes, they could.. assault, battery, what they consider prostitution.. The key is that in the metropolitan areas like Oakland and SF, it seems law enforcement has other things on its plate that generally make busting Dominatrices fairly low priority.

This information was taken from Jaye Wiseman:
“pro-subbing, like pro-domming, is illegal under California law. Please note that this is true even if no nudity or conventional sex acts are involved. (There is a lot of misinformation “out there” on this last point.) Whether we agree or not, it’s considered prostitution. The relevant statute is Penal Code section 647(b), particularly its last sentence.

Some cities are “known” (don’t ask me how) to be tolerant and others are not, but I think it’s useful to keep in mind the distinction between being of low priority to the local cops and being legal. I have personal knowledge of pro-domme/pro-sub arrests in Berkeley, Oakland, Hayward, Brisbane, and Sacramento—and I’ve heard of some others. (Anybody else remember the legal defense fund-raisers for Pamela Githens?)

Regarding your safety, let me please also underscore the advice you’ve received from numerous informed sources that you work only with trustworthy others if you decide to give this a try.”. (link)

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