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I really liked this piece in the LA weekly by Michael Albo. It is honest and does not have the usual judgemental snideness of so many such articles. What I find interesting is that the (in this case ) women have little qualms about selling sex; for them the issue is about how others will judge them. That is the problem with sex work. It is not the job but rather the stigma that is the issue. It was also interesting that most dream of going into business themselves and that entrepreneurial magazines were the literature of choice. This illustrates for me the divide that exists between the anti sex work fanatics and so much of the sex worker rights groups who box sex workers as victims where in reality most sex workers are using their initiative to manipulate the system and get ahead. Personally I have known so many who have used sex work as a tool to get what they want in life…..not reflected much in the rhetoric you read on either side of the activists divide is it?
Enjoy anyway. “HERE” is the link to the original article with links etc..
In the workplace lunchroom, dominated by a Formica table stocked with a condiment cradle that holds four kinds of hot sauce, Nikki furrows her brow as she fishes into her purse and retrieves her driver’s license. A resident of Riverside, Nikki is filling out some paperwork for her new job. “There’s a lot of stuff they want to know,” she says.
It’s been a busy day for the former administrative assistant. “I flew in and saw the doctor before I even got here,” she says. Dressed in “business casual,” Nikki is an attractive 24-year-old African-American woman with a retro hairstyle reminiscent of Mary Tyler Moore on the actress’s eponymous ’70s sitcom. Speaking with a slight but charming lisp, Nikki notes that she can’t work until she gets cleared by the authorities, and the doctor visit is the first part of that process. In the meantime, she says, “I’ll stay here and get some training because I don’t know anything. Tomorrow, I’ll get my license at the sheriff’s office, and then I can work.”
Nikki is one step away from becoming a prostitute in one of Nevada’s legal brothels.
She’s the sole supporter of two small children and her mother, and the work is important to Nikki. “In the Inland Empire,” she laments, “there are no jobs at all. I couldn’t even get a job at McDonald’s right now.”
And so she’s come to Moundhouse, Nevada, just east of Carson City, where four of the state’s 28 brothels are located just off U.S. Route 50, a desolate track that cuts through a high plain of sage and scrub and is known as “the loneliest road in America.” It’s here — at the Love Ranch, the Moonlight Bunny Ranch, the Sagebrush Ranch or the Kit Kat Guest Ranch — that women, acting as independent contractors, sell condom-protected sex and then split the profits with the management.
It’s perfectly legal, sanctioned by the local sheriff, and has long been a part of the local economy. But that economy works two ways: Women — many brand-new to the sex trade and acting as the sole support for their families — have chosen it because of economic hardship brought on by the worst recession since the Great Depression. While there’s always been a solid group of sex workers who support their families in this way, many on the management side of the industry say they’ve never seen anything like the large numbers the business is currently attracting.
“We’ve seen over the course of the last couple of years a massive flow of women from all around the country,” says Marc Medoff, general manager of the Love Ranch. “It’s their first time in the sexual-entertainment business and they’re showing up here — literally on our doorstep sometimes — for the purpose of seeking work to support their families: their husbands, their children, their parents. It’s a zillion-fold increase. When things started to get really bad, in the fall of ’07, we started seeing things increase and there’s been no let-up.”
Barbara Brents, a sociology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and co-author of The State of Sex: Tourism, Sex and Sin in the New American Heartland, says that while she has no hard figures regarding the current recession, turning to prostitution in times of economic hardship is a tried-and-true option for women. “When we did our interviews of brothel workers for our book, one of our major findings was that a large portion of the women who entered the brothels without having done prior sex work did so because of financial need,” she says. “They were working a low-paying, service-sector job that was just barely supporting them, and turned to the brothels to either get them through a crisis or because they were sick of working a straight job and not getting anywhere.”
Brents adds, “Service-industry jobs sometimes pay so little, it is not surprising that people are turning to other kinds of work. Prostitution, if you do it right, is one of those few jobs for women where you can earn a decent livelihood.” She emphasizes, however, that it’s not only low-income women entering the business. “It cuts across all classes.”
George Flint, a 77-year-old former minister and the owner of Reno’s Chapel of the Bells, has been the director of the Nevada Brothel Owners Association for the past 25 years. He says that while the women coming into the business may not be adopting it as a permanent occupation, they are coming in numbers he hasn’t seen before. But Flint cautions that such a career switch comes with some built-in economic risks. “When this recession started, one of the first things that happened was gas and diesel prices went up, and that had a big effect on the truckers who are the main customers at the rural houses.”
As in the state’s gaming and tourist industries, Flint says, the recession is taking a toll on the prostitution business as potential customers find themselves with less disposable income. “Right now,” he says, “the brothel industry is in the toilet. Several houses are on the verge of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Only a couple of them are turning a profit.”
One of the profitable brothels is the Love Ranch. A small compound of prefabricated portable buildings, it sits at the end of a cul-de-sac on Kit Kat Drive. In place of a street sign is a roughly designed billboard advertising what lies beyond the turn.
The parlor of the Love Ranch is dimly lit and dominated by wingback furniture and red velvet plush in the Old West style. A closer look reveals that the upholstery is threadbare and frayed. Mirrors on one wall create the illusion that the room is bigger than it is. The other walls are covered with fake gilt-and-velvet paper. The cornerstone of the room is a small gas fireplace that’s not being used in the heat of Nevada’s high summer. Opposite is a small, six-stool bar well stocked with high-end spirits. A cloud of blue cigarette smoke hangs in the close air.
A couple of young women wearing nothing but lingerie and cell phones lounge on the sofas, text-messaging. In a concession to modern tastes, a brass stripper’s pole connects the floor to the low ceiling and a petite blond with pigtails and the look of a debauched schoolgirl takes a few halfhearted spins on it. When two pudgy, middle-aged men in cargo shorts and polo shirts enter the gate, a buzzer rings and the other working girls on shift materialize like ghosts from the kitchen or the warren of 26 rooms in the back of the complex.
This is what’s called “the lineup,” and it’s endlessly repeated throughout the day. The two gentlemen callers, in a bid to be funny and show their bona fides as staunch Republicans in what’s still definitely Reagan Country, introduce themselves as “President Obama” and “Joe Biden.” The two punters laugh uproariously at their display of wit, but the girls mostly seem perplexed.
One by one, they introduce themselves to the men, stating a name (all of the names in this article are the girls’ working names) and offering a polite handshake before performing a prim turn and falling back into the line. It shows off the goods, but also says wordlessly that this part of the game is strictly business and there’s going to be absolutely no action until a deal is struck and cash changes hands.
“Joe Biden” decides to sit out this particular dance, not finding any girls to his liking. “President Obama” picks 22-year-old Eva, a cute, bottom-heavy brunette in a blue bikini and matching silk robe, and is led off on “a tour.”
It’s on this trek that the prospective client will be given a rundown of the house “menu” — sexual acts like “Asian cowgirl,” “whipped-cream party” and “bottoms up” — and will be shown special areas like the jacuzzi and the “VIP Room,” which looks like something out of a Matt Helm movie … if Dean Martin’s titular character had a taste for the sexually exotic. In one corner, some sort of basket contraption hangs from the ceiling. In another corner, for those into mild bondage, is a wooden pillory. A king-size bed takes up a lot of real estate here, but the showpiece is a huge bathtub for special “bubble bath parties.” Encounters in this room can set a customer back a couple of thousand dollars. Mostly, though, the customers just go to the girl’s rented room and conduct their encounters there at whatever rate they both agree to.
Nikki, who has been booked for a two-week stay, says that what concerns her most isn’t the work, but getting along with her co-workers. “My biggest fear is the other girls here. Living here for 15 days and not knowing anything is intimidating. That … and getting into the car at the airport made me nervous. ‘Am I going to get drugged and taken away?’ ”
The prospect of performing sexual acts for money doesn’t bother her nearly as much. “I do like sex, honestly. I don’t mind having sex with strangers, so why not get paid for it? I have to take care of my kids and I have to take care of Mom, so if it seems bad, then I’m sorry.”
According to Lynn Comella, assistant professor in the Women’s Studies department at UNLV. Nikki’s attitude is typical of many women coming into the brothel business. “A lot of them find the work enjoyable. They like sex and they have no moral qualms about approaching it as a business.”
Medoff, the general manager, comes out of his office and into the kitchen with some important news for Nikki. “Dennis is taking us out to dinner in a while, so we need to get ready.” Dennis would be Dennis Hof, owner of the Love Ranch and Moonlight Bunny Ranch and a figure of some local renown. As Nikki scurries off to change, Medoff posts a memo on an already crowded bulletin board.
The memos are an important way of disseminating information and reminding the girls of certain house rules, like work schedules, time off, proper attire and general decorum. The board also allows the girls to communicate with management.
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