While most people have been focused on the partisan rancor during the midterm elections, a strenuous fight to end legalized sexual exploitation has slipped under the mainstream radar.
Organizations like Awaken, Exodus Cry and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, survivors like Rebekah Charleston and advocates such as Melissa Farley among others, have been focused on a local vote with the potential to end legalized brothels and prostitution in Lyon County, Nevada.
Why End Legal Brothels?
Prostitution is inherently linked to sexual violence and irreversibly tied to sex trafficking.
Research consistently shows prostituted women experience high rates of sexual violence, most often at the hands of sex buyers. And legalization does not erase sexual violence in prostitution.
In Germany, where prostitution is legal, 59% of women in prostitution reported that it was not any safer, and across several countries, 89% wanted to exit prostitution but felt like they had no viable alternative.
One woman who survived being prostitution in two legal brothels in Nevada, shared her story, stating: “The violent-natured men I encountered in legal brothels are no different than the men buying sex on the streets. I cannot count the number of times I physically fought with men in the brothels and how many times I have been raped because I was too scared to fight back.”
In any context outside of the commercial sex trade the omnipresent and vicious abuse of women would be met with national outrage and action. But in the current climate, as long as this violence occurs in the sex trade by sex buyers and pimps, this trauma is conveniently reduced to a “workplace safety” issue.
Pornography is always a part of this sphere as well. On their websites most legal brothels in Nevada sell pornography of the women, have live webcam “shows,” and sell advertising space to mainstream porn websites.
And as if that isn’t enough, a 2013 study of 150 countries from the London School of Economics found that wherever prostitution was legal, sex-trafficking tended to increase, not decrease. Why would this be the case? Because once prostitution is legal, the demand for it skyrockets. This means that both pimps and sex traffickers are incentivized to bring more bodies to market, to meet that demand.
Knowing this, we shouldn’t be surprised that an audit of legal brothels in Nevada found that a significant number of the women had red flags for being sex trafficking victims in this supposedly “safe and regulated” industry. In fact, adjusted for population, Nevada has the highest rates of an illegal sex trade in the nation. It is 63% higher than the next highest state of NY and double that of California.
You’d think that all of these facts, plus the #MeToo movement, would put an end to legal brothels right? WRONG.
A County’s Lecherous Leeching off Prostitution
Nearly 81% of the voters in Lyon County, Nevada voted to keep brothels legal (over 16,000 votes vs. just under 4,000 votes).
81% of people in Lyon County said it is OK for a man to BUY his way into a sexual act with a woman who otherwise would not want to have sex with him.
How could this be? The answer likely has more to do with financial gain than any ideological belief that sex buying is a valid pastime.
Apparently, half a million dollars from the brothels goes into funding the county every year, particularly for purchasing new cars for the Sheriff’s office. The Sheriff’s office isn’t the only one profiting. Women in brothels not only have to give a significant portion (sometimes up to 50%) of their earnings to the brothel owners, but they also need to give a percentage of their earnings to taxi cab drivers, sometimes up to 30% of the transaction.
That’s not even factoring in other workers at the brothels who get tips and percentages of a woman’s wages, from security guards to errand-runners. The brothels also act as a general tourist attraction which benefit restaurants and stores in the county.
Even the County Commissioner Bob Hastings recently compared women working in brothels to men serving in the military, arguing to keep the age for working in prostitution at 18 years old instead of raising it to 21!
This all brings up a very real question—who is profiting off of legalized prostitution in Nevada? The women? Or the County?
This potential for corruption and greed at the expense of women’s bodies is something we hear about happening in third world countries, but politicians and voters remain blind when it is happening in our own society.
In addition to the debates in Nevada, there are growing efforts to change the laws in New Hampshire and even in Washington, D.C. to make prostitution a job like any other. It is vital to both offensively roll back legalized prostitution where it exists and defensively fight back against pro-prostitution lobbyist efforts to turn prostitution into a legal job.
Do we really want more counties, districts, or states that become complicit pimps—willing to profit off, and defend, the sexual exploitation of women?
If the answer is no, then it’s time to get involved; whether through learning more, joining an abolitionist organization, or voting next time these issues are at stake. Something that should happen soon, since Sen. Joe Hardy (R, Dist. 12) is now working on a bill to end legal brothels at a State level.
The fight against commercial sexual exploitation continues in Nevada, and in the country at large.