Nevada’s Failed $5 Tax on Prostitution

As the sex industry in Nevada, as elsewhere, is thriving amid the financial crisis, state senator Bob Coffin proposed a $5 tax on all acts of prostitution in the state’s legal brothels.

In an article published online for the UK’s Guardian, Melissa Ditmore tackles the failed taxation scheme, and points out the fact that people in the legal, as well as illegal, sex industry do pay taxes.  A fact that is largely ignored by the rest of society. While many in Nevada benefit from the substantial licensing fees the brothels pay to rural counties, countless restrictions are imposed on brothel workers, many of which serve to isolate the workers  from their local community.

Taxing sex work is not a problem. Sex workers pay taxes like everyone else. Tracy Quan, author of Diary of a Jetsetting Call Girl, and a member of Prostitutes of New York, said: “People outside the industry fantasise about prostitution, and their fantasy includes freedom from normal responsibilities. So one of the escapist myths is that sex workers don’t have to pay taxes. Of course they have to, and if they do not, the penalties are considerable.”

The Nevada counties prefer not to acknowledge the contribution made by licensed prostitution to their bottom line. Some counties and towns impose some extraordinary restrictions on commercial sex workers. The net effect of these regulations is to separate sex workers from the local community. Some jurisdictions require brothel prostitutes to leave the county when they are not working, while others take the opposite tack, forbidding them to leave the brothel where they work. Some do not allow the children of the women who work in the brothels to live in the same area.

Some of the revenue from the proposed tax would have funded new services for prostitutes, including a counselling service. If I were so isolated within the community in which I lived and worked, I just might need that counselling service. The problem is the fact that sex workers are treated as separate and unequal members of their communities. If the tax changed this, it would be cheap at the price.

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