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The Cherry Patch Bar at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch in Crystal, NV, as seen on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

By Melissa Holland

I have heard many misconceptions about brothels and legalized prostitution. The main misconception I have heard has been marketed by the legal pimps Lance Gilman and Dennis Hof.

Storey County Commissioner Lance Gilman is the owner of the Mustang Ranch brothel, and Dennis Hof is the owner of seven brothels and is running for the Legislature. Their misguided and self-profiting pimp advice would lead you to believe that brothels help reduce the rates of sex trafficking in Nevada. Ironically, when anti-trafficking agencies use the words sex trafficking and brothels in the same sentence, brothel supporters look at you with complete confusion and say the two are completely unrelated; yet, they hold the position that brothels could help prevent sex trafficking.

It is time to pull back the veil on the myth of the good Samaritan pimps who believe they are leading the fight against sex trafficking and reveal just how damaging any legal sex industry is for Nevada.

One study with data from 150 countries, along with data from an investigation commissioned by the European Parliament, found legalizing prostitution increases sex trafficking. These studies show sex trafficking is most prevalent where prostitution is legalized. Prostitution and sex trafficking are not separate “activities.” As someone who has worked with hundreds of victims of sex trafficking in Nevada, I have had an in-depth look into what this data reveals. For years, we anecdotally believed this to be true for Nevada, but now we have data to prove it.

An analysis completed by Creighton University this year reveals that, adjusted for population, Nevada’s commercial sex market is by far the largest of any other state in the nation. Nevada’s number of prostituted persons per capita is 63 percent larger than the next largest state, New York and more than twice as many as California. The analysis shows at least 5,016 individuals are sold for sex in an average month in Nevada. Nevada’s illegal sex market has more than 19,000 women and children being sold for sex annually. To give context, that is nearly the student body of the University of Nevada.

Legalized prostitution has done nothing to stem victimization within the illicit sex trade. The Creighton analysis further reveals that a person prostituted in the illegal trade near licensed brothels, is at similar risk of being trafficked as a person trafficked in areas without legal brothels. Not only does the existence of brothels do nothing to curb the occurrence or reduce the harms of sex trafficking, the existence of legal brothels empowers those seeking to exploit women and children, and further increases prevalence of trafficking.

Sadly, the Creighton analysis also reveals youth is an important characteristic sought by sex buyers in Nevada. Evidence of this comes from the advertised prices of youth being sold for sex. The data shows higher prices are charged for younger females in Nevada and puts Nevada in the top ten states in the country in terms of youth of prostituted and trafficked persons. We know from the clients we serve and from a solid body of research that many were first prostituted at 13-15 years old.

Nevada’s system of legalizing prostitution has advertised to the world for men to visit our state and rent women’s bodies for sex. As with any economic equation, where the demand increases, so does the supply. In this equation, the supply is in the trafficking of women and children. This marketing strategy has fueled the illegal sex market which has increased sex trafficking of our women and children. Most of the women and children Awaken works with are residents of our state. With a legal sex industry endorsing and advertising the buying and selling of women’s bodies, children have been raised to become second and third generation prostituted individuals.

Awaken and many other Nevada organizations and agencies have seen the devastating consequences from this system. It is time to fix this broken system that has only produced more victims than it helps. It is time to end legal prostitution in Nevada.

Melissa Holland is a co-founder and Executive Director of Awaken, a northern Nevada-based nonprofit that works with women and children affected by prostitution, sex trafficking and exploitation.

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