Legalizing Las Vegas Brothels

My knee-jerk reaction to this news is: so the state is suffering. They decide they want to make money off the backs of sex workers? How is this not exploitative? I also want to know exactly how they plan on taxing one business but not other businesses as Nevada is known for being a business-friendly state, tax-wise. (Corrections or elightenment on Nevada’s business-tax law are welcome.)

Caring about sex workers does not mean registering and regulating us to within an inch of our lives. I’ve tried to work in Vegas strip clubs recently – not good. All they care about is getting their house fee and selling alcohol (even if you don’t really want to drink). A Vegas, casino-sponsored brothel? I can’t imagine the situation being any better.

Of course I support decriminalization. But that doesn’t put money into the state coffers, nor directly into the pockets of casino owners – which is really the crux of the matter. They don’t care about the dangers criminalized street workers face, the exploitation of the local agency girls or the arrest-risk independent escorts have to handle. They simply see a way of making money – off the backs of female sex workers — and magically, somehow brothels are supposed to be good for women. (I can only assume that transgendered and male sex workers are not part of this discussion at all.)

Brothel-work does indeed work for many women. And I have no doubt a lot sex workers would welcome casino-sponsored brothels in Las Vegas. I do not want to close down that option for sex workers because it is an option. My concern is that these brothels will become the one and only answer for sex work in Vegas – leading to rampant arrest and abuse of all other unregulated sex workers. Brothel work or no work – that’s not a choice and smacks of coercion to me.

Incidentally, love how Melissa Farley manages not to offer any sort of answer to the problem of criminalizing prostitution other than maintaining the status quo. Way to protect the rights of sex workers, Farley.

More news reading:
original Las Vegas Sun piece
an editiorial piece

18 Responses

  1. I agree with everything you wrote in this post, Amanda. I’m not opposed to brothels, but I don’t think they should be the only way sex workers can work legally in prostitution. That gives the brothel owners a monopoly over the legal prostitution industry, and as you mentioned, sex workers in prostitution outside of legal brothels would still be criminalized. However, an advantage I see to this proposal over what Nevada already has is that sex workers who live in Las Vegas could stay in Vegas without having to leave the city and go live at a brothel for days or weeks. Maybe, this would allow sex workers to work shifts where they could work their shift and then go back to their homes and go about their everyday activities without having to go away to a brothel. Being away from their homes is very tough for some sex workers and also, with the way the situation is now, sex workers live with each other while they’re at the brothels, which can also be tough. I had difficulty living with all these other people, even people I liked being around. Being able to work in the city would also be good for single parents or students who are unable to take off for weeks at a time, as well as people who have other jobs outside of prostitution. They wouldn’t have too take off and leave their other obligations to go stay at the brothels. If the sex workers aren’t living in the brothels 24/7, this could give brothel owners less control over the workers, but as I mentioned before, if brothels are the only way sex workers can work legally, that still gives the brothel owners too much control. In sum, though I see some advantages to what is being proposed over the existing system in Nevada, I strongly prefer a decriminalized system over the existing and proposed system in Nevada.

  2. Shift work would be great — for those who want to work in the brothels.

    Is this part of the proposal? I have no idea. I don’t know the wording of the proposal. I do intend on becoming more informed about the issue and trying to keep up with it.

    XX

  3. I would think that if legal brothels were in Vegas, there would be shift work because it’s in a major city where a lot of people live. I think that one of the reasons why sex workers typically live at brothels while they work there is because they are way out in sparsely populated areas, so people come in from other places to work. I don’t think there’s anything in the Nevada statute that requires sex workers to live on the premises of the brothels, but because the brothels are in such sparsely populated areas (due to zoning regulations in existing laws), there are very few to no places around for the sex workers to live. If Las Vegas strip clubs don’t require the sex workers to live on the premises while they are working, I don’t know why the brothels would.

  4. Some brothels have rules about requiring the workers to live on premises. The brothel rules are shaped by the town the brothels are in — I don’t believe it has anything to do with local population numbers. In fact, the brothels in Pahrump require workers to be re-tested before working if they spend more than 24hrs out of the brothel (especially if that time is spent in Vegas).

    XX

  5. I think it would be harder for brothel owners to require workers to live on premises if it were in the city where many workers lived locally. If I were a brothel owner requiring people to live on the premises in Las Vegas and some brothel owners allowed workers to live at their own homes or provided optional housing for workers from out of town or people in need of housing, then it’s likely that many sex workers would go work at the house where they can work shifts and leave when their shifts are over. Thus, requiring sex workers to live on the premises and only allowing sex workers to leave under supervision for “doctor’s day” would likely make it harder for brothel owners in Las Vegas to get people to work for them, unless there the requires such restrictiveness, which the state statute does not. As I’m sure we all know, brothel owners won’t be able to stay in business without the workers.
    I worked in the Nevada brothel system for about 4 years, and all the women I worked with came in from other places, so none of us lived locally. Even if brothel owners and counties allow workers to live off the premises, there may not be anywhere around to live, so we’re restricted to staying at the brothels. As much as I love rural Nevada, I was living in Las Vegas at the time and would have preferred to be able to work legally in Las Vegas and leave the brothel after my shift was up. Nonetheless, as I said before, I still prefer the decriminalization of prostitution over the proposed legal brothel system in Las Vegas.
    Nye County (where Pahrump is) does require workers to be re-tested if they are off the premises for over 24 hours, but I don’t know if the proposed legislation would require this in Las Vegas.

  6. “Thus, requiring sex workers to live on the premises and only allowing sex workers to leave under supervision for “doctor’s day” would likely make it harder for brothel owners in Las Vegas to get people to work for them, unless there the requires such restrictiveness, which the state statute does not.”

    Sorry for the typo in the above sentence. I meant to say that it may be harder for brothel owners in Las Vegas to get people to come and work for them if they require the workers to live on the premises and only allow them to leave under supervision during “doctor’s day”, unless the proposed legislation requires such restrictions. When brothels are located in places where there are few to no places to live and workers almost live in other areas, then it is a lot easier for brothel owners to require such restrictions while the workers are staying at the brothels.

  7. Your argument makes sense, but few things about brothel regulations make sense. My understanding is that the town the brothel is in makes a lot of the restrictions and the restriction about registered prostitutes living in town could be one of them — thereby not leaving it up the brothel to decide that policy.

    Will the city of Vegas have this issue? I have no idea. Will the citizens of Vegas have an issue with registered prostitutes living in their neighborhoods? Possibly.

    XX

  8. Maxine wrote:
    “legalization sucks”

    Criminalization sucks also. I saw the video Maxine linked to and I recommend it. It’s very informative and a good way to learn about the perspectives and experiences of various women who have worked in the legalized (rather than decriminalized) sectors of the sex industry, including Nevada brothels, a strip club, and a private studio. I also loved how comic drawings were integrated into the video in educational ways. Though my experiences were similar in some ways and different in some ways than the women interviewed in the video, I was very interested in what the women were saying and this video maintained my interest throughout.

  9. An interesting alternative to the legalisation or decriminalisation binary is the system that was in place in Victoria, Australia for a number of years- it was partial decriminalisation. It removed all criminal laws on brothel keeping and left brothels bound by the same rules and regulations as other businesses. So brothels had to get town planning permits- but permits were not allowed to be restricted on moral grounds. Brothel owners had to pay regular business taxes- no special taxes, and sex workers had to pay income tax- but by law in Australia everyone has to pay income tax on any income whether they are working legally or illegally. There was no registration of sex workers and no compulsory health checks. In fact the legislation made it illegal for a brothel to advertise that workers were disease free or had regular checks.
    I think in places where there is support for legalisation of brothels, that alternatives such as this can open up the debate and attract support that full decriminalisation may not get.

  10. Good point, Andrew. I also find the legalization vs. decriminalization binary to be problematic and confusing to the public. If I were to say I was opposed to legalizing prostitution, the common assumption would probably be that I support criminalization. Also, there are so many different types of legalized prostitution, and not all are as restrictive as the Nevada brothel system. Sometimes, there’s a blurring of the lines between legalization and decriminalization. I’ve heard the system in the Netherlands get called both.
    I think for us to make progress, we need to be specific and clear about what we support and what we advocate for, rather than just saying we want decriminalization rather than legalization, which can be very confusing. Also, I’ve heard decriminalization defined in various different ways, which makes it all the more confusing. We can’t expect people to support a cause they don’t understand, so it’s very important for us to be clear to the public. In the sex workers’ rights movement, we make the distinction between decriminalization and legalization but a lot of people outside of our movement doesn’t and I don’t think this binary is necessary. I wish we would get away from this binary, which I’ll admit, I sometimes use myself. I need to break the habit. I think there’s more effective rhetorical strategies we can use.

  11. For us in Asia there is also the problem that the terms don’t translate.
    What we talk about instead are “legal and administrative systems that don’t criminalise sex work or discriminate against sex workers.”

    It’s a mouthful- but sometimes saying what you actually mean can be helpful, and systems that don’t criminalise us or discriminate against us (like most legalisation with special regulation models do) is what most sex workers and sex worker rights groups all seem to favour.

    Looking at whether law reform proposals meet these criteria seems far more useful than whether they use the term legalisation or decriminalisation.

    If I could walk out my front door, get a client and not have to register with the government, get a compulsory health check or fear the cops then I wouldn’t give a fuck what they called it….

  12. I know why people want to agitate for decriminalisation, but I also think it’s not the best strategy for changing ideas about sex work. If the claim is that it’s a job, then some kinds of labour controls follow logically – in the minds of those who might be convinced.

    In Spain, prostitution is not criminalised. There is a booming industry of clubs and bars whose owners want to be accepted as legitimate businessmen by the mainstream. Rights activists do not find the situation for workers at all fair or appealing, however. Are independents who work from home better off? Probably. But many people want to be associated with agencies, or work in clubs or flats, and no labour regulations help them out. So this can be thought of as a case where decriminalisation occurred, but the absence of regulation afterwards ends up penalising workers.

  13. LA said: ..So this can be thought of as a case where decriminalisation occurred, but the absence of regulation afterwards ends up penalising workers…

    I would disagree. The absence of regulations doesn’t penalize workers, it the absence to organized workers.

  14. The state laws are in effect the ‘ contracts’ for prostitutes and other sex industry workers.
    The problem is that these contacts where never bargained collectively with the actual workers.
    These state laws; that criminalize or legalize, have all been a form of top down organizing, in other words, the law has been laid down by those who have power over us.
    And clearly this situation is an attempt to top down organize.
    This is an organizing opportunity for sex industry workers in Nevada.

  15. I think the issue is whether the labour regulations are discriminatory or not.
    Sex workers in Australia and New Zealand worked on their own occupational health and safety code, for example and these safety standards are now labour regulations specific to the sex industry- but they make working a hell of a lot better and safer.
    But to do this you do need, even a small group, of organised sex workers willing to put in the time and go through all the processes and legal hoops to get good health and safety standards.

  16. AH said: “to do this you do need, even a small group, of organised sex workers willing to put in the time and go through all the processes and legal hoops to get good health and safety standards.”

    Yes, this small group is called the negotiating committee and negotiating is an art taught in labor school or with in labor organizations.

    If I were a worker in Nevada, I’d tell boss hog state Sen. Bob Coffin, that there has to be a stay of enforcing the criminalization of prostitution laws in order to organize workers to be able to come forward and have a seat at the table.,

    then…

  17. then I’d go get the local labor council and ask them to sign on to a resolution stating that no change in the laws ought to occur with out actual sex industry workers being at the center of any negotiations. We must be recognized as key stakeholders.
    There has to be a demand for amnesty for workers to organize.

    http://www.labororganizations.info/southern-nevada-laborers-training-trust/7279/

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