Lawsuit Taking on the State of Nevada for Enabling Slavery Through Brothels

Bekah Charleston was sex trafficked in Nevada’s system of legal brothels and is now seeking to hold the state of Nevada responsible for protecting the sex trade and enabling slavery. When you legalize prostitution, it creates a market for the sale of humans. That market then quickly expands as driven up by demand — a.k.a commercial sex buying — in locations where prostituting people has been legalized. These enlarged markets for exploitation are also inherently linked to higher rates of  domestic violence and rape of women (Nevada ranks in the top five states for domestic violence rates).

The State of Nevada, by legalizing and protecting the commercial sex industry, is responsible for enabling these harms to and crimes against women and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has now given the green light to listen to this argument. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center is co-counsel in this groundbreaking litigation.

When prostitution is legalized, it creates a quickly-expanding market for the sale and exploitation of human beings that is driven by the demand of commercial sex buyers. #StopTheDemand #NSFWomen Click To Tweet

Lawsuit against Nevada for enabling slavery through brothels

How Women are Sex Trafficked in Nevada

Some take the stance that women “chose” this life or that they could have escaped from it if they had really wanted to do so. This is an incredibly problematic stance.

Bekah Charleston was a victim of sex trafficking and repeatedly trafficked throughout Nevada’s “legalized” brothels. Bekah was first trafficked at the age of 17 when a man took her under his wing and gave her a place to stay as she was struggling to cope with the unexpected death of her brother. Once the trust was built, the man quickly began to sexually exploit her. “If we were getting arrested too much in a city, or if we weren’t making enough money, our trafficker would send us to legal brothels in Nevada as a form of punishment and control.” Bekah’s pimp sent her to a brothel to “work.” He laid down the framework that she could never deny a sex buyer. Any money earned at the brothel was immediately sent to Bekah’s trafficker and she was left with nothing.

So why didn’t Bekah — and the many other women and girls in similar situation — escape?


For starters, the vast majority of the Nevada landscape consists of the Great Basin Desert, the Mojave Desert, and many smaller deserts.

On top of Nevada’s unforgiving climate, some brothels do not permit women to have a car, enforce strict 5pm curfews, and even mandate that women must stay in the fenced-in compound for two weeks as part of their shift. The remote, harsh, and strict conditions virtually ensure women won’t escape the brothels. If a woman did escape past the exit door, she would be stopped once again by the hot, dry, and vast desert, which severely limits a victim’s ability to reach out for help.

These problems are all made more difficult to overcome as a result of Nevada’s notoriously bad cell phone reception across the state.

The remote, harsh, and strict conditions of #NevadaBrothels virtually ensure women won't escape. Nevada is #NSFWomen. Click To Tweet

How Nevada has enabled slavery through brothels

How Nevada’s System of Legal Brothels Violates the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) Law Center has been named co-counsel with Nevada-based attorney Jason Guinasso of Hutchison and Steffen, PLLC. The NCOSE Law Center is tirelessly working to fight for justice for the survivors of Nevada’s brothels and to abolish the Nevada sex trade as we know it.

Nevada’s conduct, which enabling sex and labor trafficking (slavery) via their terrible laws, is and has been unconstitutional.

The 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution states “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Nevada is currently violating the Thirteenth Amendment by creating conditions that enable slavery in the form of sex trafficking and involuntary sexual servitude. This case is set for oral argument in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on December 9, 2020. In front of this court, Christen Price, Esq. of the NCOSE Law Center will be arguing against the unconstitutional position of the state of Nevada that is its enablement of enslavement in brothels.

When anyone deliberately creates conditions for slavery, they violate the 13th Amendment.

Prostitution has only been legalized in Nevada counties with populations less than 700,000 residents. The first legalized brothel was the Mustang Ranch Brothel, which opened in 1971 in Storey County. However, brothels are not a new phenomenon, as Nevada has permitted brothel operations since the early 19th century. Currently, 21 brothels are operating out of seven counties in Nevada, including Elko, Lander, Lyon, Mineral, Nye, Storey, and White Pine.

“Legal” also doesn’t mean “safe,” of course, and survivors of these brothels report that they are dirty, desolate, coercive, and ripe for legal challenge. In addition to a long list of harms already detailed, rape rates are reported to be five times higher in rural counties with legalized prostitution compared to counties where prostituting people is illegal.


Although remote, Nevada brothels are strategically placed in counties that are still within driving distance from major tourist destinations. Brothel advertisements in areas where prostitution is illegal creates and markets demand that encourages men to travel across state lines to buy sex, which, under federal law is illegal. Nevada’s legal brothels are estimated to create 50 million dollars of revenue annually, creating a steady flow of sex trade tourists that provides significant GDP profit for the State. Nevada’s operation of legal and illegal brothels throughout the state also violates both federal immigration and anti-trafficking laws.

How Nevada’s System of Legal Brothels is Being Challenged in Court

For too long, Nevada has wrongfully profited off of brothels and the exploitation of women.

Nevada has profited off of brothels and the exploitation of women for too long. #NSFWomen #EndItNow Click To Tweet

Bekah Charleston, Jason Guinasso Esq., and the NCOSE Law Center are taking on the state of Nevada and are determined to shut down not just brothels, but the entire commercial sex trade in Nevada. We seek to ensure that Nevada is held accountable for allowing sex trafficking to occur, allowing brothels to create conditions of slavery that violate the 13th Amendment, and that the State provides assistance to women exiting the sex trade industry. The issue of sexual exploitation of women in brothels, prostitution, and sex trafficking is often framed as being a “woman’s choice” or as “simply” the product of unfortunate choices or circumstances.

We want to challenge this disinformation — both in the court of public opinion and in actual courtrooms — and we will continue do so vigilantly.

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Learn More and Find Ways to Support This Survivor-led Lawsuit

The Numbers


NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.


The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.


NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.



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