Protection for sex workers

The failed Storey County recall election of Sheriff Gerald Antinoro on April 10 was financed by County Commissioner Lance Gilman, owner of the Mustang Ranch Brothel and CEO of Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center.

Gilman accused Antinoro of selectively enforcing traffic laws around the Center and imposing unnecessary new work card permit requirements at the Mustang. Storey County constitutional conservatives, along with Republican Assemblymember Jim Wheeler, supported the sheriff. Gilman spent a lot of money on this recall, but the people of Storey County voted NO and kept Antinoro in office. They feared the wealthy and politically connected Gilman was seeking more power.

There is no other state in the United States where a brothel owner can also be a county commissioner and the CEO of a large public-private partnership. Nevada should be proud it is a pioneer of legal sex work.

But by making sex work legal through regulated pimps operating brick and mortar brothels, Nevada has created powerful, politically connected special interests. Dennis Hof is Nevada’s most famous legal pimp. Hof was also in the news the week of the recall election, promoting his proposed Las Vegas Raider-themed bordello.

As a thought experiment, let’s strike through sex worker. There, that just leaves worker. These people are workers who have certain skills that are in demand. Some work for another, called pimps. In Nevada, some pimps operate legally.

Other sex workers are independent contractors. But they may have help. People who are not pimps but help sex workers for pay or friendship are known in the sociological literature as market facilitators.

Legalized prostitution in Nevada is the tip of the iceberg, just like legalized sports betting is the tip of the U.S. sports betting take. There are many times more women, transexuals, cis and gay men working in the sexual services black market in Nevada than in the legalized brothels. They advertise on the web and work the hotels, bars and clubs from the glamorous strip to the dive motels that the legislature threatens to shut down.

Nevada’s legal pimps do not like the independent contractors for the same reason that Las Vegas cab companies don’t like Uber threatening to put them out of business. Las Vegas is trying to strangle Uber in red tape. Nevada’s legal pimps do not want the independent contractors to take from their legalized monopoly business model either.

The internet has facilitated sex work as it has Uber, complete with rating sites that allow customers to rate providers’ skills or warn of the lack thereof to prospective “hobbyists.”

Senate Bill 488 was also in the news because it threatens sex workers and their market facilitators by codifying that just driving a provider to her job can be considered sex trafficking and could get that driver up to 20 years in prison. Fortunately, no action was taken on the bill. The sex trafficking rescue industry also wants to stay in business and does so by supporting laws to harass the independent contractors in order to “save them.”

Also in the news, cheerleaders at Coastal Carolina University were cleared of prostitution charges because police declared them just “sugar babies” dating older men under a financial arrangement. It seems if you have an arrangement more complicated than cash left on the dresser, you are no longer “trafficked.”

And, Melania Trump won her defamation lawsuit against a reporter who claimed that she turned tricks when she was a model, or maybe had “arrangements.”

My hope is that someday no one would even think that being known as once an escort, even a First Lady, was a slur rather than a compliment.