Nevada’s Legal Brothels are Coercive Too

22 Apr

Survivors Connect Stella Marr Prostitution legalization human trafficking Swedish model rachel lloyd martha nussbaum chika unigwe max waltman norma ramos new york times room for debate

It was an honor to participate in a  New York Times “Room for Debate” on  Prostitution alongside Rachel Lloyd, Chika Unigwe, Max Waltman, Norma Ramos & Martha Nussbaum.

Here’s what I said:

Well-meaning people who’ve never been commercially sexually exploited often think that legal brothels will protect the women in prostitution from pimps and violent johns. They are mistaken.

In the 10 years I worked in New York City’s sex industry, where the pimps were part of organized crime and could follow through on any threat, I met many women who’d experienced Nevada‘s legal brothels. They all preferred the New York sex industry.

Women who worked in Nevada’s legal brothels said they were like prisons where you have to turn tricks. Rimmed with high-security fencing and an electronic gate, they can look like a detention camp. The women live in lockdown conditions and can’t leave the premises unless they’re accompanied by a male pimp. Living and working in cramped, dark rooms, they’re on call 24 hours a day. This is what happens when the law protects people who profit from commercial sexual exploitation. It’s the ideal business model. It’s the best way to get a woman to turn as many tricks as possible.

Most of the women I knew in the brothels and escort services, had a history of trauma and abuse. I was homeless at the time I entered the life and, had multiple sclerosis. That vulnerability makes them even more easily victimized by pimps. And pimps don’t stop being pimps when you legalize what they do. If we legalize brothels we’ll only be giving these predators more power, while we help them protect their cash.

As the prostitution survivor and activist Natasha Falle has said, “Where there’s high-track prostitutes, escorts, strippers and masseuses; there’s pimp violence.”

Read the full debate here.

51 Responses to “Nevada’s Legal Brothels are Coercive Too”

  1. Patrick April 22, 2012 at 12:31 am #

    Thank you for posting this. Here in Toronto someone from New York is coming in to open a brothel in the downtown core, to much debate. The owner was even on the radio attempting to explain the benefits of legalizing it.

  2. Patrick April 22, 2012 at 12:32 am #

    (cont’d from prev reply) I certianly hope someone shows them your blog and gets testimonies from people who know what it’s really like in those kinds of places.

  3. e1aine April 22, 2012 at 12:41 am #

    Thank you for opening my eyes. I thought legalisation would support the girls. Clearly not!

  4. Humanist Design April 22, 2012 at 12:45 am #

    This is good information. I also thought legalizing would keep the women safe. Back to the drawing board :-(

  5. Susan L Daniels April 22, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    Wow, the situation you describe in Nevada is horrific. Can it be that we treat hens better on laying farms than we do women in a state’s “legal” brothels? Rhetorical question–the answer is obviously yes. Thanks for the post.

  6. Anne Sikes April 22, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    Thank you for sharing this! I’m reposting. Recently had a discussion with someone about this very issue. –Anne

  7. Anne Sikes April 22, 2012 at 1:05 am #

    Reblogged this on My Life Uncut…Almost and commented:
    Great insight into the idea of legalized prostitution. Thanks to “My Body the City: The Secret Life of a Callgirl”!

  8. alaisfairlight April 22, 2012 at 1:05 am #

    Reblogged this on alaisfairlight and commented:
    A very interesting, thoughtful post. In Canada there are people trying to legalize prostitution with the object of giving prostitutes more autonomy, but does it? I’m not saying it shouldn’t be legalized, but legalizing it–as is pointed out in this article–doesn’t necessarily ensure a safer life or more control over it for the those in the industry.

  9. skipmars April 22, 2012 at 1:14 am #

    I had read or heard somewhere prostitution labelled as a “victimless crime,” probably espoused by anyone other than a prostitute who had been cuffed, hauled in and paraded past a judge. How have television depictions of the trade, such as CSI Special Victims, and other shows either succeeded or failed in portraying the realities?

    What are effective ways of addressing the problem?

  10. charleymckelvy April 22, 2012 at 1:25 am #

    thanks for sharing this.

  11. Ami Fidèle April 22, 2012 at 1:36 am #

    Very informative. I certainly hope that legisslatures don’t end up legalizing it in the us. Thanks for posting

  12. Jaen Wirefly April 22, 2012 at 2:05 am #

    I’m sorry you had to turn to the sex industry in order to survive. I’m sure being homeless, plus having a medical condition was terrifying.

    I did think that the women working the brothels in Nevada had freedom to come and go as they please and work as much or as little as they wanted. From what you posted it seems they don’t have any power and once you sign on you have just condemned yourself to a hateful situation. I hope woman who are considering this line of work read your blog.

  13. Richard Wiseman April 22, 2012 at 2:59 am #

    It has always been my view that the ‘sex industry’ is an evil. It’s just a lack of self control that leads people to see sex as a pastime or a way of passing the time. Additionally legalizing the exploitation of other people, in any way, would proof of the immorality of any government that did so. I also think that governments should spend less on the war on terrorism and more on eradicating organised crime. Organised crime is responsible for most of the problems on the planet, aside from those caused by politicians. Prostitution is slavery, legal or not; those who use prostitutes, pimps and customers, suffer from a lack of human decency, engendered by moral weakness, plain and simple.

  14. Angel April 22, 2012 at 3:04 am #

    Thanks for sharing this. I used to believe that legalization was what was best, but considering how corrupt legal businesses that have nothing to do with prostitution can be, it’s naive to think that prostitution would be any better.

  15. Sara Flower April 22, 2012 at 3:04 am #

    I absolutely respect you for speaking about this. I am saddened and shocked that my province of Ontario has legalized prostituion. I am ashamed to be part of a place that offically allows human slavery and abuse of women. I also wanted to say that you are a strong person. I read about your history in the industry.

    Thank you for posting.

  16. Angel April 22, 2012 at 3:22 am #

    Reblogged this on Artificial Angels and commented:
    A few years ago, I gave a speech on the benefits of legalizing prostitution. It caused quite a ruckus in the class, but I believed it would be best for the prostitutes.
    I gradually realized I was rather naive: If regular companies can ruin lives and screw people over with the blessing of the government, what would stop pimps from doing the same, especially with all the money Uncle Sam would be receiving from their businesses? The sex industry is too big to fail.
    A comment by the general manager of the Bunny Ranch on the New York Times article is rather interesting. She writes, “Our housing facility are better than most of their own homes. They do not have to do anything they do not wish to do and can leave at any time. In fact we have limos that will drive them in style to their spa appts, errands and shopping.” I can’t help but be reminded by the first sentence of how proponents of slavery always insisted that “slaves had it better than most free whites”. Is it too cynical of me to think it isn’t so glamorous? Even fast food joints portray employment at their restaurants as the high life.

  17. Travel Spirit April 22, 2012 at 3:40 am #

    Wow…you have some great information here! The question is what are the best ways to help change this situation?

  18. thescarletnumbers April 22, 2012 at 4:29 am #

    Thank you for standing up for something meaningful!

  19. Whimsical KT April 22, 2012 at 4:32 am #

    Very well spoken! I am glad that you speak when you have the opportunity to! That takes a lot of courage! You are a very amazing woman!

  20. Elke Feuer April 22, 2012 at 5:04 am #

    Thanks for sharing this. I had my doubts even with seeing some of these women on TV saying they are free to do what they want and it’s their choice. That might be the case in a handful of places, but I had my doubts it would be the case in all places. My other concern was that just because it’s legal doesn’t mean the women would be treated fairly and that, if anything, should be what legalizing does.

  21. sheilapierson April 22, 2012 at 5:12 am #

    I, too, am full of ignorance and had no idea – thanks for sharing :)

  22. Liz Blackmore April 22, 2012 at 5:27 am #

    Loud and proud! You are a rock coming from a hard place. Your views are the ones that need to be taken into consideration when communites are standing up for pro or no prostiution in their areas.

  23. thelastsongiheard April 22, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    Stella, the work you do to enlighten us is invaluable – thank you :)

  24. thepurplebroom April 22, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Reblogged this on thepurplebroom and commented:
    I’ve always thought the notion of legalising brothels to be profoundly stupid. It is a sign of a society that is truly sick. Legalising this is a step to legalising rape and abuse, as that is what many sex workers endure. I’ve always thought prostitution to be a form of slavery, they coach you into a lull where you cannot conceive of a life outside of it, and then you cannot escape.

  25. leander42 April 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    Keep shouting it out.

  26. Kristel April 22, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    This is definitely eye-opening. I, too, thought legalizing brothels could make things better and safer for the girls. Thanks for sharing this post.

  27. miche123 April 22, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    Your’e doing something wonderful and meaningful Stella. Keep up the fantastic work; I do admire your bravery (and your writing)!


  28. therealkenjones April 22, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

    P.S. I’m reblogging this post. Hopefully, more information like this will lead to some changes. Great work!

  29. catherinedigman April 22, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    I almost feel like the New York Times are having the wrong conversation. It’s well documented both statistically and anecdotally (by writers such as Stella Marr) that the majority of women working in this industry are either victims of human trafficking or vulnerable women who desperately need the income.

    For me the real question is “why is a developed country like the US failing to help these women?” If someone has enough capital to set up a “legal brothel” maybe they should be spending it on something more worthy within their community.

    I think this is just another symptom of our Darwinian society which rewards businessmen, and lets anyone who has “problems” just fall through the cracks.

  30. i mayfly April 22, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

    I would wish to contribute something unique and meaningful to what others have said above, but this subject leaves me aghast at the cruelty of society and words escape me. I’m glad that is NOT the case with you. Thank you for giving voice to the unthinkable. -Nikki

  31. rebeccaoftomorrow April 23, 2012 at 6:10 am #

    Your posts are always so brave and intelligent. Thank you.

  32. nelle April 23, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    I’m no expert, a point I always feel a need to make when posting here. I don’t know which course is best. What I do know is our common goal should be the well being of sex workers and everyone involved.

    Prostitution will never be curtailed, that is a fact of human existence. How it exists amongst us is a discussion we must have, for the sake of those involved.

    I see some advocate one approach, others another. I see too much arguing and not enough doing.

  33. loonyliterature April 23, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    It is imperative that you keep informing people as to what is going on because I, for instance, did not know about any of this. These obscenities will always carry on whilst the majority of the general public are ignorant of them. The more we talk and write about these issues, maybe politicians might start thinking about how to win votes and stop it.

  34. Ector Ward April 23, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    Kudos. Stella. I hope they hear you.

  35. ashkristen April 23, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your story and opinions. I’m sure many women have been where you are/were but they are too afraid to speak out. You are an inspiration. Keep it up! You are valued and appreciated.

  36. themofman April 24, 2012 at 3:25 am #

    Amazing. I’ve always believed that legal brothels are just as dangerous to sex workers as any other environment. It comes as no suprise to me to hear how detrimental such places are. On the other hand, I’m slightly taken aback by the fact that there are some (“well-intentioned people”) who would believe the contrary; then again, it’s also no suprise that there are those who would aim to justify a clearly absusive and hostile environment in for the sake of their own sexual and monetary objectives.

  37. Katie April 24, 2012 at 6:22 am #

    Thanks for the info. on Nevada

  38. Jay The Baker April 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    Appreciate your insight and the information. Continued Success with your great works, Jay

  39. bhanvoyage April 25, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    This has definitely given me something to think about. I will certainly be reading more about this.

  40. jsesautte April 26, 2012 at 6:19 am #

    Thanks for your blog, I was actually a supporter of legal prostitution, but never had the inside look as you show it. My view on the issue has changed.

  41. Cat Forsley April 27, 2012 at 9:03 am #


  42. deliriousbibliophiliac May 3, 2012 at 1:50 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Do you know how the brothels in Nevada worked? Because any legal workplace where people are locked in, on call 24/7 and forced to do something against their will violates an enormous number of health and safety laws and labour regulations.

    So, how did they get around that? The argument here in Canada for the legalization of brothels (as you may know, triggered and supported by women working in the sex trade here) is fairly strong and allows for women to expose harsh working conditions if they are occurring. Can you shed light on how women can endure what sounds like slavery and have it called ‘legal’? Were people shirking the local laws, or are local labour and health and safety laws not enforced in Nevada?

  43. Ink Pastries May 16, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Keep up the good fight! I know I have no right to compare, but even working as a “legal” massage therapist at Massage Envy for 5 months, I came to call the owner “the pimp” because the management treated us terribly (extortion and threats and constant belittling) and paid us very little for very hard work. I’m glad I work for myself again but there will always be people who try to get as much from you for as little as they can pay.

  44. Lorre May 21, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    Thanks for shedding light on this. I suppose in the sex industry, there is no way to keep out the ugly and evil.

  45. Rodger Jacobs May 28, 2012 at 12:37 am #

    Spot on, Stella. (From a Nevada resident)


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