Las Vegas Sun

July 2, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Time for real conversation about prostitution

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J. Patrick Coolican

Like much else in Las Vegas, we treat prostitution with a wink and a nod. Although our police agencies fight it with varying degrees of success, our culture is so nonchalant about it that the rest of the country thinks it’s legal here.

We seem to collectively believe it belongs in our libertarian pantheon of guns, gambling and 24-hour access to alcohol and, to a lesser extent, other intoxicants, especially on the Strip. What a person does with his body and mind, the thinking goes, is his (or her) business.

But we need to educate ourselves about prostitution, and if we do, I think we’ll re-evaluate our stance toward it.

Police evidence

Members of Metro Police's vice unit walk from the parking garage to the service elevators of a Las Vegas Boulevard condo tower in 2009 to search the condominium of a suspected pimp. Launch slideshow »

As my former colleague Abigail Goldman reported in 2009, “Vice detectives will tell you (that) behind every prostitute is a pimp. These relationships are by nature coercive, and these coercions are often cemented with violence.” In other words, we’re not talking about a victimless crime, about two consenting adults, because one of those adults is often a prisoner to a violent pimp. He gives her food, clothing, a roof over head, and that’s it.

Metro Police has changed its focus from prostitutes to pimps — the crime is called “pandering” — in an attempt to get to the source of the problem. But it’s a Sisyphean task because of the combination of demand — thousands of men with money who come here for business or leisure every few days — and the perception that prostitution is an accepted — or at least tolerated — activity in Las Vegas.

A few people are trying to change that perception. I recently attended a screening at UNLV of the documentary “Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth,” which shows the darkness of the American sex trade.

Although the film draws attention to this problem, as a documentary it’s a self-indulgent failure. Note to the filmmakers: It’s not about you. Get the camera off yourselves and stop talking. At one point, we listen to one of the filmmakers say, “I’m in crisis mode now. I don’t know how to channel my anger.” You’re in crisis? No, you’re not in crisis. The women held captive are in crisis.

In another moment of epic solipsism, the filmmakers are at a lodge at Mount Charleston discussing their new feelings about prostitution. I tried to count how many times in a minute they used the word “like,” valley girl-style, but lost count.

(I feel almost rude raising these issues, but I’m compelled to because it reflects a broader trend in documentary filmmaking, in which the ethos of reality television has infected everything like a virus.)

A question-and-answer session after the screening, however, was very valuable. Alexis Kennedy, a UNLV forensic psychologist who specializes in this issue, said the violence she sees among survivors is “unbelievable” and that “a blind eye is being turned” to the suffering caused by the sex trade.

Christopher Baughman, a member of Metro’s Pandering Investigation Team, offered a sobering portrait of what he believes is a burgeoning problem. He said criminals have considered costs and benefits and determined that the sex trade offers more money for less risk than dealing guns or drugs.

How so? A bag of drugs can be sold just once; a prostitute, many times. Moreover, women are often reluctant to testify, and for good reason. They live in fear of their pimps. Finally, even if Baughman can make these tough cases, the penalty is just four years maximum, or five years if violence was used to coerce the victim into submission.

Think about that. You terrorize and enslave me, and the penalty is four or five years max? Contrast that with much longer sentences for major drug trafficking, and you can see how our city might be flooded with pimps.

The next Legislature needs to fix this by making it easier to develop cases and by increasing penalties.

As for legalization and regulation? Baughman says he doesn’t believe this would solve the problem of pimps using violence to control prostitutes, even if the women were in a legal brothel.

We need to have a communitywide conversation about prostitution and the damage it inflicts. Let’s start now.

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  1. Well, coming from White Pine County, where there are LEGAL BROTHELS, and there are regulations in place, this article is pretty vague, basically lumping ANY prostitution into one moral catagory, which it is NOT. There are TWO catagories of the sex trade: legal and illegal. One must check their religious judgement bags at the door when reading this article.

    It is the ILLEGAL prostitution and sex trade market that needs our attention and how it could be addressed. As it is, if a client wanted a LEGAL prostitute here in Clark County, they must travel all the way to Pahrump (50 miles or so) or to Ely (240 miles) or venture further north. Clark County is part of the problem and should have a legal brothel and gain control on the issue, but the misinformed or the religious right simply won't put up with it.

    The ILLEGAL SEX TRADE is ridden with abuse, violence, disease, and theft. The workers are treated worse than animals and public safety is at risk. Most of the workers are exploited under age children, which is shameful and a crime, because society has written them off, not protected them sufficiently, which is an outrage (guess the State Budget doesn't allow for it). They are sex slaves, which must never be tolerated in our society. Every Nevada State Legislation Session has literally avoided the LEGAL BROTHEL topic, which demonstrates the covert part of our legal system here in Nevada.

    LEGAL brothels in Nevada, do NOT permit underage workers, nor does it tolerate violence, or any form of exploitation, to their credit. There are strict rules and procedures in place to protect both the worker and the client. For the legal sex worker, it is a part of their lifestyle, doing what they enjoy, and it pays the bills. Many workers have children that go to school who live regular kid lives, even attending Church. It is patently wrong for people to judge and condemn these children because their parent has a particular lifestyle and way of thinking. Police calls over a legal brothel is a complete rarity, and when there is a call, it is usually because a client has violated the rules.

    If you ever take the time to have a conversation with legal workers and establishment management, you would leave with more assurance and a more positive view of LEGAL prostitution here in Nevada. If all you interview are those against the sex trade, you will get absolute wrath and condemnation, against the WHOLE trade, both legal and illegal. These people are incapable of separating the two, seriously.

    Which brings us back to the issue. There are 2 (two) very distinct industries. Please be clear about this. This is the oldest profession on the planet, yet people still cannot come to solid terms about it in part, due to ignorance, belief systems, or our government discussing it openly without being like cats in a room full of rocking chairs.

    Happy New Year, Blessings, and Peace,

  2. Excellent comments, Star, on a story that completely lacked focus to say the least.

  3. "As my former colleague Abigail Goldman reported in 2009, "Vice detectives will tell you (that) behind every prostitute is a pimp. These relationships are by nature coercive, and these coercions are often cemented with violence." In other words, we're not talking about a victimless crime..."

    Coolican -- I have a friend who's a porn star. Two of his models are prostitutes on the side. Neither has a pimp. So these vice detectives show Metro's true face -- say anything to justify your job and budget, even if it's a lie.

    It's called the world's oldest profession for self-evident reasons, and it's still the nanny state discarding the Bill of Rights to invade what consenting adults do in private. So long as there's consent and no one is actually -- as opposed to constructively -- getting hurt, the state has no real authority to impinge.

    "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others." -- Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781-82

  4. Good idea, doubledown_deadender.

    Might I make a suggestion though?

    If your plan comes to fruition and becomes law, leave Mr. Herman Cain off of the shortlist of possible people in consideration to be in charge of it.

    It would be at cross purposes for the goal it's trying to achieve, I would think.

    He needs to stick to making his stupid pizzas.

  5. Legal: gambling & alcohol. Illegal: "recreational" drugs & prostitution. Gambling ruins far more lives than prostitution and alcohol kills and maims far more than "recreational" drugs. So why the difference? Makes no sense to me. I see no groundswell for making gambling or alcohol consumption illegal - not in "Sin City," or elsewhere, for that matter. As a matter of fact, in NV, top politicians and newspaper editorials laud the "take" gambling & alcohol provide the state & local governments. Las Vegas' former mayor took $100,000 to endorse alcohol in lavish terms. Seems a bit hypocritical to this observer. Time to stop trying to legislate morality and to enforce the laws against those who force others to participate unwillingly. BTW, I do not advocate "recreational" drugs, alcohol use or prostitution. To me, they are all activities to be avoided like the plague!

  6. While I'm unsure if prostitution should be legal or illegal, I do know it's already a crime to terrorize, beat or coerce the victim into submission.

    Seem like the real issue here is the light sentences for these crimes.

    These next questions are just for conversation purposes and to guage the opinions here:

    If pimps were eliminated, would more people support a womans right to choose prostitution?

    What about the prostitutes that want a pimp for his protection form violent Johns?

  7. Legalize everything.

  8. "Legalize everything."

    "Legalize freedom?"

    James_P, westvegas -- excellent posts!

    "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." -- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Isaac H Tiffany (1819)

  9. "...we treat prostitution with a wink and a nod." I use to be that way, so casual about my thoughts on to what you refer to as "prostitution." I thought if someone wanted to make that life "choice" that was their option no matter how wrong I thought the "choice" was. But then I started becoming educated on abuse - control over others and I started seeing "prostitutes" in another light. But it wasn't until I heard of 2 cases Lyndsey Harris and Jessie Foster's cases that my whole thought process changed forever. This thing you call "prostitution" is human trafficking. Law enforcement had both those young women in their custody. Two educated young women both so loved by their families; both came out of good homes. It should have been a Sesame Street moment of what is wrong with this picture for law enforcement. Instead of having these young women call home, promising them protection and counseling them that the threats made that their families would be harmed wouldn't happen they, LE, instead released them to their "owners" released them back into slavery. Lyndsey didn't survive. Jessie has been missing for many years from Las Vegas and I pray she survived.

    I am a trained advocate for the families of the missing. Sadly I think we are going to find a number of our missing young women and men are slaves to human traffickers. Many of our older missing are slaves to labor trafficking.

    The discussion shouldn't be on "prostitution" but on HUMAN TRAFFICKING!!!

    Maureen Reintjes

    NamUs Victim Advocate - KS (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System)
    Admin Peace4 the Missing

  10. Perhaps we need to treat all prostitution the same as drug distribution? Start by closing down all brothels state wide to show we mean business. How can anyone (in an official capacity), in this state say they are against prostitution while we have brothels open? Can you imagine ranches through out the state where you could go and get high using the drug of your choice? But if you buy it off the street you'll get arrested.

    Hear me now and believe me later. YOU WILL NEVER END PANDERING/PROSTITUTION WHILE BROTHELS ARE OPEN. Free enterprise and competition is the American way. If you open a store selling Prada shoes at a ridiculous price, some entrepreneur will find that inefficiency and sell similar shoes on the street at a fraction of the price.

    My guess is that pimps are selling the shoes on the street. If you can't afford Burberry or Christian Louboutin, you go to Payless.

    Maybe I've objectified women. If I have then so does every brothel, every topless joint, every truck billboard cruising up and down the strip and every beauty contest. Get serious. We all know that trying to rid this city/state/country of pandering, prostitution and sex trafficking is an exercise in futility as long as we accept it in any form.

  11. A "conversation" implies that there are two sides. You have presented one. Comparing illegal prostitution with legal prostitution is like comparing legal prescription drug use to crack cocaine.

  12. There is a lot the public needs to learn about prostitution as it is in Vegas. Coolican is right. The vast majority of the girls who are prostitutes here have pimps. The girls deny it but they are lying. Once they are in the "game" It is very hard to get out. The amount of manipulation that these pimps exert is formidable. Most of the girls feel that even if they wanted to leave they couldn't.

    Even if we had brothels here it wouldn't stop it. The girls pimps would never allow it and the customers are more apt to get a girl that's in their hotel rather than drive somewhere. I think brothels work elsewhere unfortunately I think it's too late to introduce them here.

    Are there girls who don't have a pimp and do well, yes. That girl is a miniscule percentage of the total in Vegas. The rest of the girls live a bad life. They have to stay out till daylight to make their nightly quota before they can go home. Their pimps get them pregnant to make sure they can't go anywhere. They also work during their pregnancy. They are subject to violence. The psychological toll exacted on them is staggering.

  13. Comment removed by moderator. - -

  14. You CAN NOT legislate morality.

    Again, there are TWO catagories of the sex trade: legal and illegal. One must check their religious/ judgement bags at the door when engaging this topic.

    Now listen, LEGAL prostitution here in Nevada protects the prostitutes who are with LEGAL establishments. These legal sex workers have routine checkups for both physical and psychological health. That is in place to not only protect the sex worker, but their clients as well. There also are programs to assist a sex worker who wishes to change out of their profession of prostitution into other career options. How many workplaces have these conditions???

    Being a legal prostitute affords being treated with respect. Grant you, it is a unique lifestyle entertainment form and certainly not for everyone, but it provides a job for a citizen.

    Many Nevada Brothels give to charities and are supportive in their communities. You simply don't hear about problems in the LEGAL prostitution trade because for the most part, they are good, caring, people. They are members of the community, pay taxes, raise families, even go to Church. They fill a niche for a service that has been in existence since the beginning of time.

    On the flip side, ILLEGAL human trafficking and prostitution amounts to the harshest forms of enslavement and abuse. It IS immoral, degrading, and the worst of the worst life situations. It is difficult to control.

    That is where legalizing and regulating prostitution and EDUCATING people about it and career options, just might steer those who are prone to go into the sex industry, to at the very least, have a SAFE and RESPECTFUL workplace as an option, rather than get snagged by some abusive low-life pimp and being treated like trash, or worse, lose their life!

    The cases of Lyndsey Harris and Jessie Foster are not familiar to me, but IF they made the "choice" to enter the sex trade business, obviously it was not at a Nevada Brothel where they would be afforded respect and care. If they were "abducted or kidnapped," then they had no options. Either case, they were/are victims of abuse, which is criminal and our current system is inadequate in dealing with such situations.

    Blessings and Peace,

  15. we all need to let people be what they want and only when they break the law should we do something about it.

  16. "we need to educate ourselves about prostitution, and if we do, I think we'll re-evaluate our stance toward it."

    The oldest profession in the world, prostitution.
    And we need to educate ourselves about it? really?

  17. "You CAN NOT legislate morality. ..... On the flip side, ILLEGAL human trafficking and prostitution amounts to the harshest forms of enslavement and abuse. It IS immoral, degrading, and the worst of the worst life situations. It is difficult to control."

    star -- but they do their best to legislate sin, no? Look at the anti-sodomy laws it took the U.S. Supreme Court to smack down. I disagree with you on the "flip side." What about the two ladies I referred to who sell their sex on their own -- nothing you referred to applies to them. Their biggest concerns are the cops.

    "With morality the individual is led into being a function of the herd and to ascribing value to himself only as a function. . .Morality is the herd instinct in the individual." -- Frederich Nietzsche 1882 "The Gay Science"

  18. Mr. Coolican Was paid for his time and talents as a writer so technically he pimped him self to the Sun.

  19. The worlds oldest profession will continue to be the worlds oldest profession because nobody can nor will control it,..nor should they. If your referring to street hookers,...perhaps some who wander the casinos,..ok, try to do something with them, but where its LEGAL it should remain LEGAL.

    Many of the working girls in Pahrump and outside of Carson City work legally for themself, pay the bills. Most do not work in a brothel for a pimp, and if they do they're not too bright. I know two who worked LEGALLY in Pahrump,..and while its probably an occupation some feel they have to do thanks to the economic disaster our government has dumped on us,...others enjoy the work. Some fly in from all manner of locations for the work.

    Clean up the streets if you think you can,...but don't go looking for trouble in the legal areas of the state where there isn't a problem.

  20. Prohibition really worked well and so would completely outlawing prostitution. However, it needs to be regulated so that the innocent are not taken advantage of and the women or men are protected.

  21. Too complex a subject to address in one article. Illegal Pimps as a rule need to be dealt with using various measures to help them quickly achieve room temperature in a remote desert area. Illegal and legal prostitutes do the work for a galaxy of reasons and a police solution for them is generally inappropriate unless they are trick rolling in concert with their pimp etc. Having counselled some illegal prostitutes in the dim past they are often very sad people and they fear police or customer violence almost as much as they fear their pimps.

  22. Human trafficking is a CRIME.

    Nevada LAWMAKERS have failed in addressing the gross human trafficking that takes place here in Nevada. Every State Legislative Session, they gloss over the subject and focus on something else.

    Why? You wonder. Perhaps it is because of the covert and criminal allowing of ILLEGAL workers here in this state! Nevada has a very large illegal worker sector (and this is also the reason that Nevada has a lowly educated workforce.)

    IF you get a handle on the ILLEGAL WORKFORCE in Nevada, you will then be able to begin controlling crime and human exploitation.

    WHY do LAWMAKERS avoid this? What's in it for them?

    We can look over DECADES of Nevada Legislative Session documents and hardly find a peep of evidence that LAWMAKERS have attempted to address this! WHY?

    Las Vegas is about image and people's perceptions about the "kind" of entertainment they will experience here in Las Vegas.

    What would happen to Las Vegas IF more "conversations" were about human trafficking and the horrors it brings to its victims? Bet those who promote Las Vegas don't want these type of "conversations" happening! WHO are they?

    Perhaps, these all are the conversations that we all should be having, especially as a free society. We owe it to the victims of human trafficking and exploitation to address their plight and have these dialogs. Maybe then, something WILL be done about this!

    Blessings and Peace,

  23. Cooligan wrote: "As my former colleague Abigail Goldman reported in 2009, "Vice detectives will tell you (that) behind every prostitute is a pimp. These relationships are by nature coercive, and these coercions are often cemented with violence." In other words, we're not talking about a victimless crime...". The police may wish to push this fiction to justify their policing this trade but the cause and effect of the argument is all mixed up. The fact that the trade needs to work outside the law has created the opportunity for the pimp to act in a simple protection racket game. Twenty years ago, I studied this issue in depth and read countless studyies on the subject written both in England and the United States. What I found was that a victimless act was made a crime, and in doing so, the trade was made profitable and controllable to those on both sides of the law. I also learned that the worst thing that could happen to the trade was to have the police act in both regulating and enforcing the trade. Each time that happened, the police ended up being far worse than any pimp. The only way the trade appears to work, is to have the health department run the regulation part with no enforcement powers, and to have the police used for enforcement but only after the health department enters a complaint through the courts. It is only with this type of seperation of governement powers that the system remains above board and legal. As long as the trade can work inside the law, the pimp role is eliminated along with the violence of working outside the law.

  24. Star, you asked why . . .

    My answer is: "Twenty years ago, I studied this issue in depth and read countless studies on the subject written both in England and the United States. What I found was that a victimless act was made a crime, and in doing so, the trade was made profitable and controllable to those on both sides of the law."

    Understand, in order to profit from this trade one needs the ability to control it. Even when the trade is legal, as in Nye and Story County, politicians expect their cut from the brothels. Read up on the Chicken Ranch in Nye county where the owner of that brothel wrote a book that spoke of the hoops he had to jump through, and then look at the history of Raggio and Conforte up around Reno. If you ever have the chance, read the book by Ms. Davis . . . who was a madam in LA, about 60 years ago, a madam to the Stars of Hollywood, judges and politicians.

  25. This is not going away ever, somewhat like cannabis, it is woven deep within society. Legal cannabis clinics have opened, a start to fix that problem, and the same should apply to prostitution. It will never be stopped so might as well protect those in, many other civilized countries do so. As pointed out the legal brothels of rural Nevada do not have these violence problems. This is not a religious matter.

  26. Jim Reid, in your experience you speak of a victim, and the "degradation of the women". My question to you: Was that degradation due to the fact the women were working outside the law, such that they did not have the protection of a civil society and and as such . . . were subject to being degraded? Or, are you suggesting that these woman were working within the protection of a civil society, yet they were still degraded by customers who loathed doing business with these ladies? Just curious.

  27. As we can see, this topic is multi-faceted, and is difficult to discuss unless each facet is carefully identified and is discussed in appropriate context. Otherwise, it becomes unwieldy and confusing. What has been discussed, is prostitution in its many forms.

    I contend that in illegal human trafficking, there ARE VICTIMS, that many who serves as prostitutes had been abducted, turned into slaves under coersion and great durress. This IS a CRIME and it has VICTIMS. We should make that distinction.

    The other forms of prostitution are more subjective. Since prostitution has been with humanity for eons, and will continue to be, the best way of dealing with it, is to: legalize it, decriminalize it, regulate it, tax it, and insure prostitutes get those health and psychological check-ups and career counselling to protect them, their clients, and society at large. Just deal with the reality that prostitution is NOT going away, no matter if you prohibit it through legislation.

    UNLV702 stated, "The real problem is market forces at work - We have big government who has made prostitution illegal. As a result, a black market has been established. The black market does NOT protect vulnerable prostitutes - there are no rules or laws to protect these people."

    As long as there is a demand, there will be those who will capitalize on that demand and supply it. It's the American way you know. Other countries have dealt effectively with prostitution and the USA and Nevada should be looking at those models towards improving what we have here.

    Blessings and Peace,