The Oldest Profession

Sex Laws Info


Definition of a Brothel

In general terms, a brothel may be defined as existing where more than one individual is working together to offer sexual services. Provided that a prostitute is working alone in his or her home and is over the age of 18, this act is absolutely legal. If more than one person provides sexual services within that property, whether or not they are working at the same time, the activity becomes illegal. Therefore room-mates who provide sexual services from their home on alternate days may be held criminally liable. Also, if rooms in a particular building are let out to more than one person offering sexual services, this will be considered a brothel if it can be proven that the individuals are effectively working together. A hotel in which more than one prostitute is working on a given night could be considered a brothel if it can be proven that the prostitutes are working together. So, if the strict letter of the law were to be applied, a “brothel” would appear to be a “catch-all” term which would include not only conventional brothels, but also paid sex parties, duos, couples – in short, anywhere where there is more than one person selling sex on the premises. Indeed as a glance at Kelly v Purvis (1983) will show, neither payment nor sexual intercourse are requirements for a brothel to exist.

What is the Law?

Our Statute Law, as contained in the wording of Acts of Parliament, sometimes seems vague, confusing and open to various interpretations. This is where the Courts come in; by passing judgements, they define – for practical purposes – what the law means. The rulings in cases made in the Higher Courts are known as “landmark” judgements, to which judges and lawyers refer when considering cases of a similar type which come before them. This body of rulings constitutes Case Law. As we will see below, some of the Case Law is very old, but may still be significant and useful. The reference numbers of the cases are given to help to locate them in the various law libraries and databases.
As far as brothels are concerned, our first notable judgement goes back to the nineteenth century.
Singleton v. Ellison (1895) 1 QB 607.
"A house used by a woman for the purpose of prostitution of herself only is not a brothel." "A brothel is the same thing as a 'bawdy-house' -a term which has a well known meaning as used by lawyers and in Acts of Parliament. In its legal acceptation it applies to a place resorted to by persons of both sexes for the purpose of prostitution. It is certainly not applicable to the state of things described by the magistrates in this case, where one woman receives a number of men."
This case first established a 'brothel' as referring to premises used by more than one woman for the purposes of prostitution, following the suppression of brothels under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. That is, a place resorted to by persons of both sexes for the purposes of prostitution.
Durose v. Wilson (1907) 71JP 263; 96 L.T. 645 DC.
"If several flats in a block of buildings under one roof are used for the purpose of prostitution, the whole block may be a brothel." "a brothel is such a place as that described in that case - that is, premises used by more than one woman for prostitution."
Mattison v. Johnson (1916) 85 LJKB 714.
A single prostitute operating in a premises was not able to permit the premises to be used as a brothel.
Winter v. Woolfe (1930) 1 KB 549.
Two or more couples having ‘illicit intercourse’ under one roof is a brothel whether or not the women are paid. A place resorted to by persons of the opposite sex.
Gorman v. Stanton (1949) 1 QB 294
“A bawdy house by definition is a house resorted to or used by more than one for the purpose of fornication”.
Strath v. Foxon (1955) 2 QB 294, 3 A11 ER 398; 39 Cr. App. R 162; (1956) 1 QB 67.
"Premises were held not to be a brothel where such premises were divided into two self-contained flats (with no common use other than a joint use of a kitchen), which were let separately to two known prostitutes, each of whom used her flat for the purposes of prostitution for herself alone."
Donovan v. Gavin (1965) 2QB 648; 3 W.L.R. 352 (D.C.).
Even separately let rooms may constitute a brothel if they are close enough together to create "a nest of prostitutes”.
Kelly v. Purvis (1983) 1 All ER 525, [1983] 2 WLR 299, 76 Cr App R 165; [1983] Q.B. 663
“To constitute a brothel, it is not essential to show that premises are in fact used for the purpose of prostitution which involves payment for services rendered. A brothel is also constituted where the women (for there must be more than one woman) do not charge for sexual intercourse” .
“It is not essential that there be evidence that normal sexual intercourse is provided in the premises. It is sufficient to prove that more than one woman offers herself as a participant in physical acts of indecency for the sexual gratification of men”.
An element of reward was not required, nor is sexual intercourse. Two women being ‘lewd’ with a man would constitute a brothel. In this case masseurs masturbating clients (relief massage). (Section 33, Sexual Offences Act 1956.)

Sexual Offences Act 1956 S.33

It is an offence for a person to keep, or to manage, or act or assist in the management of, a brothel to which people resort for practices involving prostitution.
The maximum penalty is 7 years imprisonment.

How does this affect those involved?

For the purposes of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (revised 2003) the Crown Prosecution Service uses the following guidelines:
  • Section 33, keeping a brothel;
  • Section 34, a landlord letting premises for use as a brothel;
  • Section 35, a tenant permitting premises to be used as a brothel.
  • Section 36, a tenant permitting premises to be used for prostitution.
A brothel, for these purposes, is defined as "a place where people of opposite sexes (but see para below) are allowed to resort for illicit intercourse, whether the women are common prostitutes or not". It is not essential to show that the premises are in fact used for the purposes of prostitution (which involves payment for services rendered); a brothel exists where women offer sexual intercourse without charging.(Winter v Woolfe [1931]KB 549).
Note also: "Premises which are resorted to for the purposes of lewd homosexual practices shall be treated as a brothel" for the purposes of Sections 33 to 35 of the Act (Section 6, Sexual Offences Act 1967). The same now applies to Section 36 by virtue of Schedule 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

The Owner/Proprietor/Manager(ess)

Clearly breaking the law
The Maid
Much depends on her duties, and whether her duties are interpreted as 'assisting in the management'. Activities such as cleaning, washing, making coffee etc are unlikely to be considered as managing. Taking customers money, banking, hiring staff, placing advertisements may be seen as 'assisting in the management'. Discussing prices and services over the telephone may also be taken as complicity in the management. If the establishment is raided and other offences such as trafficking, illegal workers, drugs etc are found, then there is a possibility of aiding and abetting charges being brought. Again this would depend on the degree of knowledge and involvement. (See our separate item on Maids).
Working Girl
It is not illegal to work as a prostitute in a brothel. As with maids, there are possible aiding and abetting charges for other offences. If a working girl caught up in a brothel raid and refuses to co-operate with police requests (e.g. to identify herself, answer questions, make a statement, whatever, things may get difficult - she may well be open to charges of the "Obstructing a police officer" type.) Note too that many brothel raids also involve officials from HMRC , Border Agency and Benefits Agency, as well as the Police.
The Punter
While it is not an offence in itself to visit a brothel, as from April 1st 2010, a punter may be guilty of a criminal offence if he pays for the services of a prostitute who is controlled, coerced or deceived into working. See Section 53A of the amended Sexual Offences Act of 2003 (we have a separate item on this). If the punter actually has sex with a person who falls into this category, e.g. someone who has been trafficked, more serious charges may arise. Also, refusal to cooperate with the police may bring other charges. Punters caught up in a brothel raid may be questioned and asked to make a statement, if only to eliminate them from being involved in the management of the brothel. In some cases, the punter may be required to give evidence on behalf of the Prosecution should a case come to court.

Other Issues

There may well be Planning Permission, Tenancy Agreement or Leasehold irregularities. These could include both criminal offences and breach of Local Authority regulations.

The criminal offences are:

Letting premises for use as a Brothel (Sexual Offences Act 1956 S.34)

It is an offence for the lessor or landlord of any premises or his agent to let the whole or part of the premises with the knowledge that it is to be used, in whole or in part, as a brothel, or, where the whole or part of the premises is used as a brothel, to be wilfully a party to that use continuing.
Tenant permitting premises to be used as a Brothel (SOA 1956 S.35)
It is an offence for the tenant or occupier, or person in charge, of any premises knowingly to permit the whole or part of the premises to be used as a brothel.
Tenant permitting premises to be used for prostitution (SOA 1956 S.36)
It is an offence for the tenant or occupier of any premises knowingly to permit the whole or part of the premises to be used for the purposes of habitual prostitution.

Footnote: Proceeds of Crime

Since the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, police authorities have been empowered to freeze and then sell assets of brothel-keepers and parlour managers, and this money is then split four ways, with the Home Office, CPS, Courts Service and police all getting their share. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 extended powers for civil recovery of assets (see, for example, s245A, 245B). In s110, the power of arrest is extended to enable police or community wardens to arrest, without warrant, anyone for any offence, or on suspicion that an offence might be committed, however trivial, in connection with the so-called crime of brothel-keeping.