(Bree Zender | KUNR) – A federal lawsuit was filed earlier this year by an anti-legal brothel lawyer, claiming sex trafficking is rampant in the businesses. While brothel owners deny this, the suit aims to ban brothels in Nevada. Now, a prospective defendant is looking to add himself to the suit. KUNR Reporter and Host Bree Zender spoke with News Director Michelle Billman about this latest wrinkle.
ZENDER: Yeah, so his name is Russell Greer. He is a disability rights advocate and he lives in Salt Lake City. He’s attempting to add himself as a defendant in this federal lawsuit, and he says that legal brothels are the only place that he can pursue a romantic and sexual relationship. He says because the muscles in his face are paralyzed, that takes him out of a typical dating pool.
Greer started seeing sex workers a few years ago in Utah, where it is illegal. He said to me over Skype that fear of being arrested brought him to the [legal] brothels here in Nevada:
“It really boosts my self esteem. It is nice to be with someone who listens to you and who will touch [you.] There’s meaningful touching. You know, having a fun time.”
As Greer says, this provides him with an opportunity for intimacy that he doesn’t normally have. And by adding his name to this particular lawsuit, he wants to preserve the state’s brothel system so that he can continue to do that.
BILLMAN: Bree, is Russell Greer’s situation common, based on some of the reporting that you’ve done?
ZENDER: So, there are not really numbers for the ratio of people who have disabilities versus people who don’t have disabilities who visit brothels. That’s just not really a number that one can come up with. But, you know, anecdotally, I’ve been covering this topic for about a year now in Nevada, and nearly every sex worker that I’ve spoken to says that folks with disabilites are a good portion of their client base. But we also want to be careful not to generalize because people with disabilities are a wide spectrum of people and not everyone feels the need to visit brothels.
BILLMAN: Bree, remind me about the plaintiffs in this case. Who are they, and what are they arguing?
ZENDER: So, there are three plaintiffs in this case. One of them, the one that’s received the most media attention, is Rebekah Charleston. She was forced into prostitution as a teenager, and one of her traffickers forced her into a legal brothel in Nevada. She says that because prostitution is legal in Nevada, it attracts a bunch of illegal sex trafficking, and a higher illegal sex trafficking trade that isn’t there in other states.
Her lawyer, Jason Guinasso, says that because there are legal brothels in Nevada and they have promotions online, it’s bringing people over state lines, which violates the Mann Act. [That] prohibits people from travelling over state lines for ‘immoral things’–that’s 1910 language–‘immoral’ things, like prostitution.
BILLMAN: And returning to Greer, who wants to become a defendant…he isn’t new to advocating for legal prostitution. Tell me about that.
ZENDER: A couple of years ago, he filed a business license application in Salt Lake City. He wanted to start his own brothel. The business license was first accepted by mistake, but then was retracted when they found out he was wanting to start a brothel. He sued the state of Utah. The case was dismissed, but he did want to take it to the supreme court [in an attempt] to try to legalize brothels everywhere, really. He compared it to the same-sex marriage case, where a couple was denied a marriage license, and then they sued and took it all the way to the supreme court, and then it was legalized back in 2015. So, he was aiming for that similar projectory for this suit, but not much has been brewing about the suit since then.
BILLMAN: And what’s the status of the suit right now? What else can you tell us?
ZENDER: Sure, so the original defendant, the State of Nevada, is attempting to have the lawsuit dismissed. Storey County Commissioner and Mustang Ranch Brothel Owner Lance Gilman has also added himself as a defendant. He says he wants to preserve the system for the safety and wellbeing of the women who work there. The suit is still in its discovery period, so it’s a period of time where both sides of the suit go and research to try to find evidence to support their cases. Yeah, that’s where it’s at.