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Tim Burke: To keep or to not keep brothels?

Prostitution as defined by merriam-webster.com: the act or practice of engaging in promiscuous sexual relations especially for money.

The legal prostitution industry in Nevada has one primary core value, making money by selling sex. The industry statewide has been in decline for many years with several brothels either changing ownership or closing their doors. That demise has been primarily for economic reasons but now brothels in two counties face petition drives started by residents to eliminate them entirely.

The reasons for their economic decline are in part due to a change in our societal views towards casual sex with society adopting a more tolerant attitude towards “hooking up.” Brothels are no longer the primary outlet for men to find casual sex, having been replaced by a swipe right on a social app. They are also no longer a popular gathering place for local men to get a beer after work and to have an occasional tryst with a prostitute. Instead, they have evolved into high-priced “themed room” experiences catering to tourists. The brothel business model has changed as our society has changed and those brothels that have adapted to the new model appear to be healthy financially.

As discussed in a previous column there are many arguments both for and against legalized prostitution. Those arguments include health, safety, personal choice, crime, taxes, income, longevity, job creation, and morality. Arguments will be made that support or contradict both side’s viewpoints.

For our community, those arguments are superficial to the three primary issues of personal choice, community image, and the exploitation of women. Nye County, like the rest of rural Nevada, is primarily Republican. While we may be that on paper, we embrace the Libertarian views of freedom of choice and individual rights. When someone, regardless of how logical, reasonable, or well-intentioned their action may be, wants to intrude on those Libertarian views, we resist that intrusion forcefully.

Prostitution has a negative public image. Your personal perspective may be that the brothels are okay but for a majority of those outside of our community, legalized prostitution is viewed as a black eye against Nye County. That image affects how others view our wives, our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, and our other female residents. That view is not favorable. Businesses looking to locate here also take the brothels into consideration when weighing the pros and cons of investing into our community and creating needed jobs.

Those in favor of banning the brothels are motivated by what in their view is the exploitation of women. It is hard to argue against that when you consider what prostitution really is. It is the act of a woman selling her body to a strange man. When the customer (the John) enters the brothel, he is met with a lineup of scantily-clad women where he then chooses which one he wants for sex. The prostitute gets no say on whether she wants to sell her body to that man or not. It’s how the business is conducted regardless of any talk to the contrary. If a prostitute refuses a customer she won’t be working at that brothel for very long.

Women are now speaking out about how men have used sex as a bargaining chip for job promotions, acting jobs, and other career-related matters. The Me-Too movement (#MeToo) is an international movement against sexual harassment and assault with new stories being told almost daily about men in power abusing women. Considering that increasing public awareness, it is becoming more difficult to rationalize that prostitution is not demeaning towards women and that it doesn’t perpetuate male dominance over a woman and her body. Have we become “numb” to what prostitution is since it has been here so long?

A good friend of mine who is a county commissioner in rural Northern Nevada recently told me, “regardless of how much respect I have for my constituents’ individual rights, legal prostitution is sanctifying and profiting from the exploitation of women.” And that is the quandary now before us.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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