Bobbi Davis was the owner and operator of the Shady Lady Brothel, located about 20 miles
north of Beatty in Nye County, until it closed Dec. 14. Davis has a quick mind and considerable insight into human nature and social relations. I conducted an oral history with her in 2011. This is the third column in this series taken from that interview.
Brothel women 20 years ago and now
Davis believes that when she first started operating her brothel in Sarcobatus Flat more than 20 years ago, “The girls were totally mentally different from what they are now.”
She believes girls in the business then were “not quite as intelligent” as now. They hadn’t gone as far in school and lacked many of the social graces that women in the brothel generally possess today. Davis believes that back then, when you really started talking to the women and inquired into their backgrounds, they had often “raised themselves.” They hadn’t had good parenting, they lacked a good home, and they tended to make the best of what they had.
Now girls coming into the brothels are better educated, come from better backgrounds, and are more socially savvy.
Davis said she once had a girl who worked for her who had a bachelor’s degree from a good college. She had in mind a business she wanted to put together and was in the brothel to get the money to make it happen. Once the girl had accumulated the necessary cash Davis asked her, “Why don’t you just do your business? You’ve got the money.”
The girl’s answer was, “I’m going to make as much money as I can doing this while I’ve got my body because when I get older, I can do that other business. Then I’ll live comfortably and I won’t have to struggle to make it.”
She was out to make as much money as she could while she could, Davis said; there would be a cushion if the business failed.
Davis believes more women in the brothel are putting their money into investments such as real estate and looking to the future than women in the business two decades ago. Yet she didn’t want to give the impression that all the girls in the brothels are like that now. There are still those that think, “I’ll make it tomorrow.” But more girls now seem to realize that tomorrows might get slimmer, she says. Many have a forward-looking attitude.
Twenty years ago in Nye County, brothels there were what Davis called “lifetime girls,” or “lifers.” Many had come to the brothel when they were 21 or so years old and remained there.
They would work in the profession until they couldn’t work anymore. Most of them didn’t save their money and went from one prostitution situation to another.
Nowadays, Davis says, the average “lifespan” for a girl in the business that she sees is five years, perhaps a little longer depending on the brothel and the girl. For the typical girl, prostitution is an economic bridge. How well she does her job helps determine how long she stays in the business. Bobbi says, “If she gets it right, and she plays her cards right, it’s five or six years. If not, maybe it’s 10. But no more than 10.”
The majority, she says, do not stay more than 10 years.
The age at which a girl enters prostitution Davis says, “varies.” With street prostitution they often enter at the age of 12 or 13. With brothel prostitution, the youngest age at which a girl can legally work in a brothel in Nevada is 18, and that’s for counties in northern Nevada.
The minimum age in Nye County is 21. Some years ago it was 18 in Nye County. Eighteen-year-old girls, for example, used to work at Bobbie Duncan’s Buckeye in Tonopah. Bobbie Duncan thought that 18 year-old minimum age was “way too young.” Davis agreed. Some girls are quite mature at 18, but others not.
When Davis opened the Shady Lady in 1992, most of the girls she met had been in some previous form of prostitution prior to working in brothels, either street prostitution, escorting, or some other form. “Nowadays,” she said, “a lot of girls are coming straight into the brothel system.” Some women have heard about the business and decided they want to try it. For some it doesn’t work because they enter thinking it’s an easy way to make money.
Some think, Davis says, “Oh, having sex for money isn’t work.” But it is work, she emphasizes. Working in a brothel is like sales, she says. If you don’t sell anything that day, you don’t have any money and therefore you can’t pay your electric bill. “Don’t tell me it’s not work,” she says.
And, she said, women are coming to the brothel from all different walks of life. She gets calls from girls who say, “I’m not experienced but I would like to learn it.” Davis said she tells them to “come and try it.”