Julie Bindel / The Guardian
There is only one place in the US where brothels are legal, and that’s Nevada – a state in which prostitution has been considered a necessary service industry since the days when the place was populated solely by prospecters. There are at least 20 legal brothels in business now. Not so many, you might think, but these state-sanctioned operations punch above their weight in PR terms.
Take HBO’s hit documentary series, Cathouse, which features the most famous of the Nevadan brothels, the Moonlight Bunny Ranch. Tune in and you’d be forgiven for thinking that all prostitutes in Nevada are on to a good thing. The women speak coyly about loving their work, their customers, their bosses. “The series sheds light not only on the numerous joys and challenges of working at a legal brothel,” says the HBO website, “but on the therapeutic benefits that customers take with them after a stint at the Ranch.”
Given such great PR, a new book – Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections – makes interesting reading. During a two-year investigation, the author, Melissa Farley, visited eight legal brothels in Nevada, interviewing 45 women and a number of brothel owners. Far from enjoying better conditions than those who work illegally, the prostitutes she spoke to are often subject to slave-like conditions.
Described as “pussy penitentiaries” by one interviewee, the brothels tend to be in the middle of nowhere, out of sight of ordinary Nevadans. (Brothels are officially allowed only in counties with populations of fewer than 400,000, so prostitution remains an illegal – though vast – trade in conurbations such as Las Vegas.) The brothel prostitutes often live in prison-like conditions, locked in or forbidden to leave.
“The physical appearance of these buildings is shocking,” says Farley. “They look like wide trailers with barbed wire around them – little jails.” The rooms all have panic buttons, but many women told her that they had experienced violent and sexual abuse from the customers and pimps.
“I saw a grated iron door in one brothel,” says Farley. “The women’s food was shoved through the door’s steel bars between the kitchen and the brothel area. One pimp starved a woman he considered too fat. She made a friend outside the brothel who would throw food over the fence for her.” Another pimp told Farley matter-of-factly that many of the women working for him had histories of sexual abuse and mental ill-health. “Most,” he said, “have been sexually abused as kids. Some are bipolar, some are schizophrenic.”
Read the full article here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/sep/07/usa.gender