City Cast

Should Clark County Establish Brothels?

Scott Dickensheets
Scott Dickensheets
Posted on August 22
Photo of a sign that says "red light district" in red neon.

What would the establishment of legal brothels mean to Clark County? (clubfoto/Getty)

Never mind Nevada's rural counties — why aren’t there brothels here? Recently, podcast co-host Dayvid Figler talked about this with UNLV sociology professor Barb Brents, a leading expert on sexual commerce. Some excerpts:

Las Vegas had prostitution since the beginning. Was it legal or did law enforcement just turn a blind eye to it?

(There was) prostitution along with saloons and entertainment for folks working in a rough environment. Police did what they thought they should to handle law and order at that time. Las Vegas closed its brothel district — reluctantly, I might add — in 1942. It was mostly pressure from the growing gaming interests, who were themselves receiving pressure from the federal government to look legitimate.

Pimps and sex traffickers and other third parties — is that a concern with decriminalized sex work?

What most people don't realize is the majority of third parties these days include, like, taxi drivers or web designers, the technical people we need to protect our privacy or get noticed on the algorithms. They also need lawyers, hairdressers, nail techs. Right now, the way the laws are, just about anybody who helps a sex worker do their job can be charged with advancing prostitution.

There certainly seems to be a clear demand for prostitutes here. So, should Clark County get its own brothels?

Yeah, sure — as long as we also dramatically (change) the way we treat sex workers outside the brothels. Here's the problem with just having brothels and nothing else. You create a two-tiered system, where the vast majority of sex workers may be doing it because they have few other options, as well as those who don't have the money to pay for licensing fees, or don't have the particular looks a brothel might need — there are a lot of people immediately priced out of working in a brothel. So a lot of people are still going to be working illegally.

(Edited for length and clarity.)

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