(Chuck Muth) – Lots of news stories about the federal lawsuit filed this week by anti-brothel crusader Jason Guinasso on behalf of former illegal prostitute and ex-con for bank fraud and tax evasion, Rebekah Charleston.
The target of the lawsuit is the State of Nevada. The suit asks the federal government to step in and strike down Nevada’s law that allows the operation of legal brothels in a number of the state’s rural counties.
And while Guinasso has claimed in newspaper interviews that he’s representing Charleston “pro bono,” he asks in the suit for “reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs, and litigation expenses plus interest accruing thereon, in their favor at the maximum rate allowed by law.”
The same “we don’t win, you don’t pay” scheme of personal injury attorneys. It also means if he does win, the taxpayers of Nevada will actually be paying his fees. But that’s not all…
Guinasso is also demanding that Nevada create a $20 million “Sex Trade Exit Fund” ostensibly for the purpose of providing former sex workers “mental health services, rent assistant, job training, scholarships, funding for childcare, medical treatments, tattoo removal, etc.”
Not only would Nevada taxpayers be on the hook for this $20 million, but a Guinasso ally, Awaken Reno – which partnered with him on his failed effort to ban brothels in Lyon County last fall – would likely be a beneficiary of the largess.
Meanwhile, Bree Zender of KUNR noted that the Mann Act, the basis for Guinasso’s claim relating to interstate commerce, was actually steeped in anti-black racism…
“The Mann Act – also known as the White Slave Traffic Act – became federal law in 1910 … In fact, in 1913, famed boxer Jack Johnson was the first person to be found guilty of violating the act after he allegedly transported a prostitute from Pittsburgh to Chicago. Many believe that Johnson’s case was racially motivated. [Johnson] was black and the woman, who some say was actually his girlfriend, was white.”
So where does the lawsuit go from here?
According to the process summons issued on February 25, 2019, the State of Nevada – including the Legislature, the Governor’s Office and the Attorney General – now have 60 days to respond.
In addition, Lance Gilman, owner of the Mustang Ranch brothel in northern Nevada, told the Associated Press that he “intends to file a motion to become a party in the lawsuit,” while the Washington Post reported that Mustang “has announced that it plans to file a motion to intervene in the lawsuit (and) become a full party to it as an intervenor and get the claim dismissed.”
“Guinasso’s actions will put thousands of women back into the hands of pimps working illegally,” Mr. Gilman said. “His entire complaint is about illegal prostitution and trafficking, which has no relationship to licensed brothels in Nevada.”
Indeed, as Amy Westervelt wrote, “Several women, who spoke with The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity to protect their safety, said they feel safer at the brothels than they would as independent sex workers.”
“Gilman,” the AP reported, “said Guinasso would be better off trying to help illegal prostitutes escape from their pimps, working to outlaw the distribution of handbills on the Las Vegas Strip for illegal prostitution services and cracking down on illegal sexual services at massage parlors.”
Meanwhile, Miranda Wilson of the Las Vegas Sun reported that Republican Nevada State Sen. Joe Hardy has introduced a bill to outlaw legal brothels statewide.
Wilson’s article notes that while Charleston claims to have been “trafficked” through a pair of Nevada’s legal brothels, Gilman argues that “it isn’t the legal brothels’ responsibilities to determine whether a prostitute is being coerced into working.”
“The brothels cannot be the clearinghouse,” he said in an interview. “They cannot be the law enforcement group.”
Indeed. If, as Charleston alleges, her “pimp” sent her to work in a legal Nevada brothel, and she failed to disclose that to the sheriff who issued her a work card or the brothel where she allegedly worked, how was anyone supposed know?
It should also be noted that Charleston claims she wasn’t making enough money in the legal brothels, so her pimp allegedly pulled her out and sent her to Las Vegas where the illegal and unregulated market was more lucrative, even though far more dangerous.
But the real heart of the matter is this: Even if Charleston was “trafficked” into legal brothels without the knowledge of law enforcement or the brothels themselves, that doesn’t mean the vast majority of other women who choose to work there are doing so against their will.
As Cherry of the Mustang Ranch explained to the Washington Post…
“I pay for my mother’s chemotherapy. And I grew up in a bad area with a bad school system, and the first step to getting out of poverty is to go to a better school. So I pay for my younger sister’s schooling, too.
“If something happened and this place shut down, most all of us would still be doing this work, but we’d be pushed to the streets, to hotels, to strip clubs selling ‘extras,’ and things would happen to us. Statistically, things would happen to us and it would be awful.”
At the very least, folks such as Guinasso and Sen. Hardy should visit the legal brothels and speak with the adult, consenting women who work there, such as Cherry, and get their first-person perspective on the work they’ve chosen to do.
Listen to THEM. And then live and let live.
Mr. Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a limited-government grassroots advocacy organization, and government affairs counsel to the Nevada Brothel Association