Friday, January 06, 2006

Legal prostitution in Nevada

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I want to quote from this very interesting book written by Alexa Albert about legal prostitution in Nevada (USA, okay, this time it's not the Netherlands), “Brothel, Mustang Ranch and its women”(2001).

She lived for a while among the brothel prostitutes to study them. Funny thing is that Alexa Albert is a supporter of legal prostitution, yet she makes some very shocking revelations about women working for pimps in these brothels. One of the advantages of legal prostitution was supposed to be that women wouldn't "need" the "protection" of pimps against clients and the police.

Notice that Joe Conforte is the owner of the Mustang Ranch and that George Flint is the head of the Nevada Brothel Association.

The Mustang Ranch was closed down in 1999 (because of tax evasion).

It was clear that the women working in Nevada's brothels represented a distinct group. Fewer than half of Mustang's prostitutes had sold sex outside the brothels, whether "on the track" (the street) or through escort or outcall services. Although it wasn't unusual for streetwalkers to give Nevada brothels a try as a respite from the streets, George Flint figured that under 10 percent of the brothels' regular prostitutes were former streetwalkers. He speculated that the reason was the brothels' extensive rules and obligatory confinement: "True street girls can't make the adjustment. Every one of them fails. Maybe they're too accustomed to their independence. Or the fact that they choose their customers, their customers don't choose them."One trait common to most of Mustang's women was financial hardship. Since Donna's husband was unemployable, or claimed to be, someone needed to earn a living for the family; she had only a high school education and manager work experience, and he convinced her she had few options. This was a pattern I saw frequently-women who had ended up at Mustang Ranch to provide for loved ones. Instead of lacking family values, as moralists contended, most of the women I came to know there possessed a profound sense of personal responsibility and an unwavering commitment to their families that ultimately drove them to do this "immoral" work. Almost every woman was financially supporting someone else-often her husband, sometimes other family members. Carrie, a prostitute in her early thirties, was taking care of her mother, who had turned her out more than a decade ago. With raven-black hair down to her buttocks, Carrie bore an uncanny resemblance to Morticia Addams, a likeness enhanced by the black dress she always ware: tight-fitting, low-cut, long, and sheer. Forbidden to return home until she earned the quota her mother set, Carrie was frequently forced to remain at Mustang for weeks on end. Then there was Ivy, whose mother-in-law had packed up her bags and loaded them in the car before announcing that she had freeloaded off her husband's family long enough her mother-in-law was taking her to Mustang Ranch to get a job.It wasn't always families that the women subsidized; all too frequently, pimp boyfriends had manipulated them. The women didn't admit this to me readily, however. In fact, the subject of pimps didn't come up until I met Brittany, a thirty-one-year-old with a sweet, wholesome face devoid of any makeup, and a pageboy haircut. Instead of the standard brothel "eye patch" bikini top, which barely covered the nipples, and matching "tulip" shorts, cut to expose both buttocks cheeks, Brittany stuck with knee-length cocktail dresses. I couldn't get over how much she resembled an old high school friend of mine. Brittany kept her distance from me for a couple of days, then approached me one afternoon in the Mustang bar. To break the ice, I asked her how the brothels had changed over the eleven years she had worked in them. She mentioned how the previously obligatory three weeks on/one week off work schedule had been relaxed, and how the house minimums had gone up from $30 when she started to $100. And of course, she said, the brothels used to require women to have pimps. Startled, I asked her to repeat herself. I had assumed one of the benefits of legalized prostitution was the elimination of pimps.Realizing that no one had yet let me in on this well-kept dirty secret, Brittany reiterated that the brothels used to require women to have pimps before they were hired. The rationale was simple. The involvement of pimps enabled brothel owners to leave discipline to men who wouldn't hesitate to keep their women in line. Brittany said it wasn't unusual for an owner like Joe Conforte to collect all the pimps' phone numbers, and call them whenever a girl misbehaved to come "straighten her out real quick." All too frequently, Brittany said, "straightening out" involved brute force. Owners also benefited from the pimps' relentless demands that the women earn more and more money.Meanwhile, pimps found much appeal in placing their prostitutes in Nevada's brothels, despite having to relinquish half of the women's earnings to owners. For one, the pimps could be assured their prostitutes would be supervised and attended to. Once extricated from the burdens inherent to managing working girls illegally, these men were free to seduce other women into the trade. A pimp could keep track of his prostitute's business simply by calling the brothel and speaking with the cashier or a manager, who freely disclosed the women's earnings. He frequently kept abreast of his prostitutes' daily conduct by putting all his working girls together in the same brothel and encouraging them to snitch on one another.Even though the brothels no longer required women to have pimps, many of Mustang's working girls still did, confided Brittany in a hushed tone. How many women? I asked, incredulous. Brittany glanced quickly around the room and let out a sigh before replying that almost all the girls did, in her opinion. Those without pimps, she said, included herself, Baby, Dinah, and a few others. With disbelief, I briefly surveyed the room. Why on earth would these legal prostitutes need pimps? Off the unsafe streets, they surely didn't need a pimp's protection. Weren't the women already giving up a significant portion of their money to the house? The brothels functioned as stand-in pimps. Most of the women had portrayed themselves as tough and independent-minded women who viewed prostitution simply as a job, a way to earn a living. I hadn't detected any signs of coercion. And I had never heard any of the other women talking about pimps.Brittany wasn't surprised to learn this. None of the women would've wanted to admit aloud to being exploited, to giving up their hard-earned money to a man when the brothel already extracted half their earnings. Moreover, Brittany said, most of these women denied that their pimps were pimps, considering them "boyfriends" and "friends." She had reason to know, she said; she'd once had a pimp herself. "God forbid if you ever called him a pimp. It wasn't even in your vocabulary. It was like a bad word," she said. "But as far as I'm concerned, if you're sending your money to a man who wouldn't be with you if you weren't sending him money, then he's not your boyfriend, he's your pimp. Still, it took me a year after I left Bobby to be able to call him my pimp."By now, Brittany had settled into the bar stool next to me, completely absorbed in recounting her story, raising her voice occasionally to be heard over Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" blasting from the jukebox. Whenever the doorbell rang, Brittany ducked her head below the counter of the bar so as not to be caught skipping lineup by Blanche, the floor maid. Brittany's behavior further substantiated my sense that management didn't actually respect women's status as independent contractors. I also wondered if brothel management would be angry with Brittany for revealing that owners once collaborated with pimps and fostered prostitutes' dependence upon them. Frankly, Brittany's candidness surprised me, especially if, as she said, having a pimp bore such a social stigma. It was as if Brittany wanted to get this secret off her chest and had picked me to bear witness.Hers was the classic story of being caught by a pimp, she said. At the age of eighteen, shortly after graduating from a Catholic high school, she met Bobby while working as a bank teller. He spent three months actively pursuing her, wining and dining her and lavishing her with bouquets and gifts, always acting the gentleman to win her affection. Brittany was flattered by all this attention from a thirty-year-old, and soon he had seduced her. Then one night over dinner, Bobby announced he needed some money-he had started running out especially because of all he had spent wooing her. To maintain their standard of living, Brittany began charging their expenses and soon accrued a credit card bill of $20,000. When she told Bobby of her debt, his response was a cold-blooded "How are you going to pay that off?" Then, for the first time, he mentioned prostitution. Specifically, he told her she should consider going to Nevada to work in a legal brothel. At first, Brittany adamantly refused. She had been raised in a religious family and could never sell her body. But over time, as her debt accumulated and Bobby kept encouraging her to prostitute, she began to waver. She didn't give in until he finally issued an ultimatum: either she start prostituting or he would leave her. "Why should I be with you if you're not doing anything for me?" he asked her. Afraid of losing him, Brittany finally submitted.Using both guilt and the pretense of love, pimps baited and coaxed women to turn out, Brittany said. Sadly, they rarely reciprocated women's love in any genuine way. Brittany explained that pimps like Bobby typically used insincere promises of fidelity to placate their prostitutes while continuing to philander in attempts to catch and turn out additional women. Most pimps strove to establish a stable of women off whom they could profit. By arranging for his prostitutes to work staggered three-week schedules in the brothels, so that only one would be home at any given time, a man could fool each woman into believing she was his one and only. Prostitutes who were aware of the existence of others competed ferociously to win their pimp's favor. Many pimps exacerbated the women's rivalry, pitting them against one another with the prospect that one prostitute would eventually win out and the two of them together would reap the benefits of all the other girls' work. There was even an expression for this coveted position: "bottom bitch."But Brittany knew only one woman who had claimed victory and ended up with her pimp: her friend April, who had retired off the floor, or quit prostituting, thirteen years earlier and now worked as a night floor maid at Mustang Ranch. One night April opened up to me and confessed that even though she'd prevailed and had been married for over eighteen years to her former pimp, the road had been tough. "I was bitter about my experience," she said. "I couldn't forget those early years. It had been very difficult to share my man with other women. Even after we'd been out of the business and out of the life for a while, he was always looking to catch one girl and to keep her for a couple of months to make some quick money. I had a big problem with that because I didn't want to share him anymore."More typically, relationships between prostitutes and pimps ended the way Brittany's had. After almost three years of financial exploitation and some physical abuse, Brittany finally admitted to herself that Bobby was using her. But when she announced her intention to part ways, Bobby said she would have to leave all her possessions behind, regardless of the fact that she had helped him amass eight cars, several homes, and jewelry. In the end, she said, she barely got out of their house with the clothes on her back. With nowhere else to go, nothing to show for her years of work, and not enough confidence to try anything else, Brittany returned to Nevada's brothels, only this time as an "outlaw," a prostitute without a pimp. She had been working independently now for nearly eight years.Although the brothel industry no longer worked in collusion with pimps, Brittany felt outraged that owners and management didn't do more to rid the business of pimps altogether. Instead, the brothels maintained a hands-off policy, perhaps not wanting to deprive themselves of the constant supply of prostitutes still furnished by pimps. Law enforcement officials in Oregon, where for some reason many of today's West Coast pimps allegedly originate, estimate that pimps in the Eugene-Springfield area have over forty women working in Nevada's brothels who regularly send tens of thousands of dollars back home. When I asked George about this, the next time he drove out to Mustang to check on me, he downplayed it. Rather perfunctorily, he said it was a shame that the women had pimps, and it was nothing the brothel industry was proud of. He could no more understand why the Women would give up their money to pimps, he said, than he could understand why the women tended to date ex-cons. (His question was a good one-why were some women emotionally vulnerable to such men and other women not?)Brittany and the few others like her who had broken free of pimps tried to warn women who had them that they would eventually be left with nothing to show for their years of hard work. Occasionally, a woman took her colleagues' words to heart and left her pimp, but usually the efforts were futile. Once, I witnessed a couple of women trying to encourage a working girl named Monica to leave her "old man." He was one of two infamous twins from Oregon, Henry and Harold, black men in their late twenties or early thirties who "kept" thirteen or fourteen girls apiece, all almost identical. Monica typified the look with her tall, long-legged frame, blond hair, and fresh, cover-of-Seventeen-magazine face. The women shared something else: the twins had marked all of them with identical ankle tattoos.The women tried to point out to Monica how cruel her pimp was; he forced her to work without a single day off for over five months. Didn't Monica see how he was using her? Monica resisted; Henry had trained her well. He loved her dearly, she insisted, and only wanted her to work hard so they could be together sooner. The two had plans to run away to California and start a family. When the women asked why Henry never seemed to want to see her, never visited her or flew her home to Oregon but still expected her Western Unions to be timely and bountiful, Monica started crying. Inside, she had obviously wondered the same thing. But she wouldn't dream of questioning Henry, she said, or she might lose him. She didn't know what she would do without him. Wasn't it proof enough that he loved her, Monica asked hopefully, that he cried and begged her forgiveness after fights they had over the telephone? Deep down, she said, Henry needed her, and she didn't want to disappoint him.Brittany contended that husbands like Donna's and men like Bobby and Henry and Harold were all pimps, period. Other women sharply disagreed; I found that whether or not their significant others should be regarded as pimps was a hotly contested topic among brothel prostitutes.When Brittany had decided to get married, four years earlier, she was very careful. Even though her husband, Jon, unlike her former pimp, held a full-time job as an accounts manager for a manufacturing company, Brittany knew she could easily fall back into the same old role: "He says he'd never take advantage of me like that. But I tell him he wouldn't have to. I'd let him do it, because I've been in that role before-of giving, giving, giving. It's all I know how to do." Brittany refused to combine their incomes and insisted on splitting all bills 50-50. "There's no mooching. I don't send him my money or come home and hand him my purse. My money goes directly into my checking account, and I can spend as much as I want. He doesn't ask me about my money. I'm careful not to let him cross that line."My long discussion with Brittany at the bar ended abruptly when one of her regulars found her sitting with me and asked to go back to her bedroom to "talk," the brothel euphemism for negotiating prices..................

Now another quote. The Mustang Ranch is closed down due to tax-evasion. Alexa Albert attended the closure of the brothel. I would have thought that Alexa Alberta should have turned totally against prostitution. But she ends her book with the following:

THAT NIGHT I watched the evening news in a Reno motel room as I repacked my belongings in preparation for an early flight home the next day. A short clip showed the brothel's padlocked gates. The news anchor capped the closure with a shrug and a jab: "It's just a bunch of hookers, all they have to do is find another corner to make a living on." I wanted to scream. Don't you realize that by eliminating Mustang Ranch, you don't simply displace era bunch of hookers"? You eradicate a community, a family!The brothel had provided an income as well as friendship, compassion, trust, and hope for countless women and men. In many ways, Mustang Ranch picked up where society had dropped the ball. It had provided a safe, nonjudgmental, economically sound work environment and a fair way for a community of several dozen women and their families to meet their most basic needs.Legal brothels are one alternative in dealing with prostitution. However disturbing the idea of commercial sex may be to some of us, it's naïve to believe that prostitution can ever be eliminated. The demand will be met with supply one way or another, no matter what is legislated. Turning our backs on the women (and men) who do this work may be far more immoral-even criminal-than prostitution itself. Only when we recognize and validate the work of professional prostitutes can we expect them to practice their trade safely and responsibly.My time at Mustang Ranch proved to me just how complicated human sexuality and everything about it can be, especially how it eludes total understanding. Consensual sex between adults-whether for pay or pro bono-is exactly that, consensual. As such, it's a personal and private decision. What seems universally to be true about it is our need to supercharge it politically and load it down with the heavy freight of moral issues.Baby once told me that she wanted to make it known that she and her colleagues were "okay people, too." Perhaps her point was best made in a phone call we shared not long after Mustang's closing. "I feel like I've made a difference in my clients' lives. That they can breathe easier each night. I appreciate these guys and I feel they don't see me as a hooker or prostitute, but see me as a person, as Baby. That makes me feel worthy-not only as a prostitute or working girl but as a human being."This was my experience also: seeing the women of Mustang Ranch as human beings. In a business built largely on desire and fantasy, it's easy to be deceived by our assumptions and, in doing so, overlook the humanity that's at the core of this complex and timeless profession.

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Anonymous said...

I understand that by making prostitution legal it will become a much safer profession. I do, however, see a considerable amount of exploitation still going on within these legalized brothels. I can't help but feel that if brothels are made legal throughout the United States there will still be a huge amount of "underground" problems with pimps. These pimps will use these new and legalized brothels as a tool to exploit people, just like they are doing in Nevada. Brothels would become a huge source of legal revenue for the United States and that would be fine, except for the fact that even though the law sees these brothels as legal and legit, there is still going to be very complicated problems of exploitation involved with these brothels and instead of the United States not supporting this kind of exploitation, the USA will inadvertently be supporting the exploitation. I can only see this working if there is very strict control on who gets the money, and even then there will probably be pimps. I am also afraid that making brothels legal will lead to a higher practice of slave trade. Do you think that there will be more opportunities for pimps and slave traders to "trick" the system if the country were ever to make prostitution legal or do you think that the security would be so that it is difficult to take advantage of the legalized status of brothels?

Donkey said...

I actually don't have a clue!!! My intuition tells me that when the brothels are just legalised and nothing else, human trafficking and pimping will go on as usual. I believe the brothel owners should do their best to stop victims of human trafficking from entering their brothels. Clients should be encouraged to visit the legal brothels. But, obviously there's the problem that almost all brothels are criminally owned, and that hasn't changed much since 5 years of legalisation, because the brothels haven't changed owners really. For instance, the famous "Yab Yum" is rumoured to be owned by the Hells Angels!!!

Bree said...

I have just now found you. I am a retired prostitute formerly working in the legal brothels in Nevada. I knew Alexa and am one of the ladies in her book.

All of the brothels in Nevada are not owned by a criminal element. Although I know of one that most likely is. I have never heard of the Yab Yum so I have no knowledge there. There are ladies working for pimps in LPIN(Legal Prostitution in Nevada), they are the exception however and not the rule. The brothel owners for the most part do not encourage pimps and the ladies working do a pretty good job of policing that issue themselves. Any time they find out a lady has a pimp they do what they can to discourage the relationship and have on more than one occasion been successful.

There will always be people working in every industry that do not have the belief in themselves to make it on their own for whatever reason. While I hate pimps there will always be a need both for prostitutes and pimps. Society has shown that while they may abhor prostitution, it has been around for all of recorded history. Until we as a culture learn to raise our children with the belief in their own abilities and strength we will have members of society that prey on them.

Donkey said...

Thanks for your comment! I hope you're right.

But the prospects are grim. I learning more and more now and one of the TAMPEP reports (1994) says that Eastern European criminals control the infrastructure of prostitution in Germany. I cannot imagine how a voluntary prostitute could ever work in such a brothel (although TAMPEP says it could).

I hope Nevada is the exception.

Pamela said...

Check out the new book by Melissa Farley on this topic.

Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections

Anonymous said...

Its funny as I sit back and read all of this only because I was just with Henry for the last 3 years. Yes loved him with all my heart. And will admit he did make me work hard, but took very good care of our family. I decided to move on; however, he never turned his back on us and he will always be missed and thought about, considering we do have matching tattoos on our knecks. And as for my pro Harold, he too was and is a great man.... we had great times together... all of us. Love you guys