Are legal brothels the answer?

All the attention turned to Nevada brothels can be seen as a great argument for decriminalization.

Farley’s research shows the fault lines in the current legal-brothel system. (Those faults may be exaggerated for effect.) I’ve certainly done my share of reading and research on the brothel system over the past several years. Although I flirted with the idea of working in the brothels once (just to say I did it), I decided not to.

The brothel system, as it now stands, doesn’t suit my personal needs. I don’t like handing over 50% of my earning to someone else (in this case, the brothel is pimp-like). I don’t want to be nickel-and-dimed for my room/board and things like tampons. I don’t want to have to work long shifts or answer a call to the door at 3am (frankly, anything after 8pm would be too much for me). Registering with the county (even as an “entertainer”) is more intrusive than I want. There’s a whole list of reasons why I chose not to work in the brothels, even though I know a few girls who have worked in them with great success.

A nation of non-sex workers is up in arms over Goodman’s comments about creating magnificent brothels in Las Vegas. Although they’re not fans of the current legal brothels (and neither am I), they’re missing the point. Everyone needs to talk to the actual brothel workers. You know, the women who work in the brothels because they need to buy a house, keep their family from poverty or because it’s the only way they can be free of arrest (which would ruin their lives and possibly lose their children). If they’re under the thumb of a pimp, well, they need more help than just having their livelihood taken away.

All this points to the current legal-brothel system as being broken. To avoid the horrors of the brothels, as researched by Melissa Farley, decriminalizing independent operators is the obvious answer. This allows sex workers to choose working conditions favorable to their own situations. It gives legal protection. And it helps keep the full earnings of their work in their pocket.

What’s wrong with putting a little power into the hands of sex worker herself?

Amanda Brooks

9 Responses

  1. Even before Farley’s report, I’d read less-than-stellar things about working conditions in the Nevada brothels. Some links here:

    http://www.sexwork.com/legal/NevPimpHouses.html
    http://fleshtrade.blogspot.com/2006/01/legal-prostitution-in-nevada.html

    I have yet to read Alexa Albert’s book (other than the above excerpt) or any of Barbara Brent’s papers. If I’m not mistaken, they don’t exactly paint a rosey picture, either, though certainly more nuanced than the one that Farley paints.

    Farley makes one other accusation that goes beyond anything I’ve read elsewhere about the brothels – that many of the women there are literally trapped, that even if they were to up and say they were quitting, they’d be physically prevented from leaving. Has anybody else heard anything like this, or do you think this is just coming from Farley’s rather rich imagination?

  2. It’s been a few years since I read Albert’s book. I was impressed with it. She seems to have a no-nonsense approach in terms of sex is bad/sex is good. She highlights the disadvantages of working in brothels not as an example of how the entire sex industry operates, but as an example of how state-controlled brothels limit the mobility and autonomy of individual women within the system. She also highlights the way that the women are basically shook down for their money at every turn (well beyond their rent and the house’s 50% share.) He critique was less about what it means to provide sexual services and more about the treatment of women by the state based on the fact that their jobs involve sexual services. She also touches on personal relationship stuff, workers with families, workers sleeping with brothel staff, etc. She demonstrates that prostitution, as with any job, has its advantages and disadvantages and identifies the rights of the workers as the ultimate solution to addressing those problems. She also talked a little bit about her own ambivalence and difficulty initially in getting around the stereotypes and assumptions that she had about prostitutes.

  3. I enjoyed Brothel (by Albert) too and came away with the same perceptions as Karly. I’m not a fan of the brothel system in the US.

    That being said, I have yet to hear of anyone not being allowed to leave a brothel. If they owed money, perhaps. Although one girl did share with me a story of assault — by another girl at the brothel.

    I’m kinda slow today. I just realized we should’ve extended an invite to the NVBrothels.net forum to see what they have to say about this.

    XX

  4. The problem with the legal brothels in Nevada is the problem faced by all places that legalize prostitution.

    The general public does not want to see it or hear about the details.

    So various methods are devised to allow the johns access while keeping out of people’s faces. Nevada has turned most of regulation of prostitution over to the brothel owners who function both as pimp an as the licensee of the state. The brothel owner sets the rules – how long does she have to stay (usually at least 2 weeks), what if she wants to leave early? (she loses her money), what fee does she have to pay the brothel owner (usually 50% plus room and water and food and various fines.) What if she wants to go into town (some brothel owners will take her car keys.)

    Now you can complain all you want about those circumstances, but NO body of politicians is going to want to sit down and write up the specific rules for things like who pays for the tampons. And NO city or state is going to pay for the observer to sit and make sure every john wears a condom and nobody gets slapped harder than they chose.

    When you are alone in a room with a john, you are on your own. We cannot protect you. We cannot pass enough laws to protect you (and lawmakers do not have the stomach for it.) We cannot pay for the services.

    You are fighting for the right to be left alone in a room with a man who thinks he has the right to whatever he because he paid for it.

    You tough women on this blog, you fighters for your rights, you might come out o.k. 9 out of 10 times. Other women will not. Legalization will not help them one little bit. It just lets her know that state approves of what the john is doing to her.

    LEGALIZATION WILL NEVER WORK.

  5. Josie,

    I do wish you’d actually read the post before commenting. We’re glad you can read the title, but proceed further than that for the whole picture.

    The point of this post was that the legal-brothel system in the US is not working and decrminialization and allowing sex workers to operate independently is a better answer.

    XX

  6. I’ve worked in the Nevada brothel system and I was able to leave for as long as I wished to after my stay was up. I advocate for a decriminalized system of prostitution rather than the Nevada brothel system, but I’ve never had any job outside of the sex industry where I could take off for as long as I decided.

  7. Of course you can leave after your stay is up. What about BEFORE your stay is up? What if a woman “CHOOSES” to leave before her time is up? She will lose all the money she has made to date, plus possibly pay some weird “fine” made up by the brothel owner.

    There is nowhere else where a worker is legally kept hostage for two weeks at a time except maybe the army.

    This one fact alone should have you all up in arms, storming the legal brothels, dragging lawyers out there to break whatever “contracts” legal brothel owners think they have that can force this kind of sexual servitude. But instead your instinct is to side with the brothel owners. Why IS that? Some kind of loyalty to pimps and johns? Fear of brothel owners (some of them are quite violent.)

    Why aren’t you in there fighting for the people you purport to represent?

  8. Oh dear, Josie- you really didn’t read Amanda’s post. Ignorance is unbecoming…;)

  9. Well finally – we can all agree we don’t like the “Legalization” of prostitution which means the brothel system!

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