February 10, 2019

Nevada’s Legalized Prostitution is Still Exploitation

As of February 2018, there were at least 21 brothels active in Nevada.[i] While some people claim that legalization of prostitution provides better regulation and increased safety, the truth is that sexual objectification, coercion, violence, as well as racism and socioeconomic disadvantages are inextricable from the prostitution experience—including Nevada’s legal brothels. Indeed, the very exchange of money (or something of value) to obtain a sex act is itself an act of sexual coercion.

Even when it is legalized, it is impossible to disentangle exploitation from prostitution. One woman who survived being prostituted in two legal brothels in Nevada stated:

“We did not have the ‘independent contractor’ freedom to turn down buyers. Management required us to line up when someone arrived at the brothel. Once picked from the lineup, we would bring the sex buyer back to our room where he was allowed to do whatever he wanted with us… 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.”[ii]

Research confirms that the vast majority of those in prostitution (whether legalized, unregulated, or criminalized) experience both the constant threat of and high rates of, sexual violence and even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. One study interviewed 854 individuals in prostitution, including in countries where it was legal results revealed that:

  • 71% physically assaulted;
  • 57% raped; of those raped, 59% were raped more than 5 times;
  • 64% threatened with a weapon;
  • In Germany, where prostitution is legal, 59% responded that prostitution is not safer with legalization;
  • 89% wanted to exit prostitution.
  • Equating prostitution with death, one woman stated, “Why commit suicide? I’ll work in prostitution instead (p. 53).”[iii]

In this same study 68% of prostituted individuals had symptoms of symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on par with that experienced by combat veterans.[iv]

These kinds of violence and exploitation are inseparable from prostitution, no matter its legal status. Sex buyers do not assault or rape people in prostitution because of a legal policy, but because the purchase of prostituted persons as an act of male sexual entitlement. When a man purchases sexual access to another human being, they believe are purchasing temporary, total control. The fact that sex buyers feel a sense of entitlement and “right” to do what they please to those they engage for prostitution is born out in research, for instance:

Once a prostitute has consented to any exchange of sex for money, these women see many men as assuming that she has given up the right to refuse consent in any situation. Once her sexuality has been ‘purchased,’ her body ‘belongs’ to the purchasers to use. This was the constant theme in the interviews. Many women encountered men who treated their agreement to engage in some form of sex as permission to abuse the women’s bodies in any way they wished, as long as they gave the women monetary compensation.[v]

These quotes from sex buyers explain this even better:

“They will do anything you ask them for with no complaints and nothing said back. ‘Your wish is my command,’ like a genie jumping out of a bottle.”[vi] 

“ . . . she gave up her rights when she accepted my money.”[vii] 

“There are no boundaries.”[viii]

In addition to the violent taking of sex from some prostituting persons through rape, it is vital to understand that the day-to-day sex of prostitution is of the same warp and woof as rape. Rachel Moran, a sex industry survivor, explains this well:

Prostitution and rape are commonly distinguished by the logical fact that to buy something and to steal something are two different things; but when we consider that the sex bought in prostitution is the same type of sex stolen in rape, sex that is, as Kathleen Barry puts it: ‘. . . disembodied, enacted on the bodies of women who, for the men, do not exist as human beings, and the men are always in control’—it is then that we understand how deeply traumatising it is for the woman whose body is so used. When we understand that the sex paid for in prostitution shares so many of its characteristics with the sex stolen in rape, it makes sense that so many prostituted women make clear parallels between the two experiences. One woman described her experience of the sex of prostitution very succinctly when she referred to it as: ‘Paid rape.’ Canadian campaigner Trisha Baptis, who was first prostituted as a child, describes it as ‘pay-as-you-go rape.’ Another woman described it as ‘like signing a contract to be raped’ and I wrote an article for the Irish Examiner in 2012 where I described prostitution as ‘being raped for a living.’ That was first said to me by another former prostitute. Many of us describe our feelings towards the sex of prostitution in these ways.[ix]

No matter if it is legal, or illegal, prostitution will always be accompanied and motivated by sexual violence and gender inequality. #EndLegalBrothels Click To Tweet

[i] https://nevadabrothellist.wixsite.com/list

[ii] Rebekah Charleston, “Human trafficking thrives in legal brothels” Reno Gazette Journal, 2018. https://amp.rgj.com/amp/1578611002?__twitter_impression=true

[iii] Farley, M., Cotton, A. et al. (2003). Prostitution and trafficking in nine countries: An update on violence and posttraumatic stress disorder. In M. Farley (Ed.) “Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress,” (pp. 33-74), Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Maltreatment & Trauma Press.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Jody Miller and Martin D. Schwartz, “Rape Myths and Violence against Street Prostitutes,” Deviant Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal 16, (1995):1-23.

[vi] Rachel Durchslag and Samir Goswami, “Deconstructing the Demand for Prostitution: Preliminary Insights from Interviews with Chicago Men Who Purchase Sex,” Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, (May, 2008, p. 20).

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Melissa Farley, Emily Schuckman, Jacqueline M. Goldberg, Kristen Houser, Laura Jerrett, Peter Qualliotine, Michele Decker, “ Comparing Sex Buyers with Men Who Don’t Buy Sex: ‘You Can Have a Good Time with the Servitude,’ vs. ‘You’re supporting a system of degradation,” (paper, Psychologists for Social Responsibility Annual Conference, Boston, MA, July 15, 2011).

[ix] Rachel Moran, Paid For: My Journey through Prostitution, (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., 2013).

National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Founded in 1962, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography.

Further Reading

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